Museums as alternate form of art education

Sunday, February 8, 2009 | 10:14 p.m. CST; updated 11:05 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 8, 2009

COLUMBIA – As public schools nationwide cut funding for art programs, museums in Columbia are providing opportunities for children to foster art appreciation and comprehension.

A solution to the decline in funding for the arts is to increase the access kids have to art. Kathy Unrath, assistant professor of art education at MU and author of the article "Bringing Children to Art – Bringing Art to Children," encourages her education students to do both. As a part of the certification process, Unrath's students do exactly this when spending a semester in an art class at Lee Elementary School.

"Part of the requirement is that (my art education students) bring Lee students to look at art," Unrath said. 

In addition to bringing kids to art at museums, pre-service education students also develop portable museums to bring art to the kids at Lee. These portable museums are collections of art with a certain theme, such as optics. They are often created on a triptych board and designed to lure and retain children's attention.

In the classroom, Lee students are able to incorporate their art studies with both history and geography. This week alone, "two second-grade classes went to Africa with a globe and Langston Hughes' poetry, traveled across the ocean to North America, time-traveled through the civil war to the Harlem renaissance and saw how Picasso was influenced by African pattern," said Ann Mehr, an art teacher at Lee.

Families with children at other local schools can still benefit from MU Art Education programs that use museums as a means to teach art.

One program is Tiger Artists, a Saturday school that makes its students "mini-MU tigers." The program begins in a classroom in the education building at MU and then moves to the Museum of Art and Archaeology, where students can view pieces up close. 

"I think it's absolutely important, philosophically, that students get to view the work of art in person," Unrath said.

Tiger Artists, which just finished its fifth year, is offered each fall and is open to 20 students on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Even without a specialized program, museums can be a supplement for art education. Children, as well as their adult guides, can find something to appreciate in museum exhibits.

"(The kids) tell you things they see that you can't even imagine," said Cathy Callaway, who often works with kids at the Museum of Art and Archaeology.  "I look at something differently because of the way they describe and relate to (the piece)."

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