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Museum Mondays: a first-person account of community outreach

October 20, 2013

By Carrie Hatcher’13

My college career, in one sense, is characterized by a culminating fascination and excitement for how art is an especially vibrant way of learning and interacting with the world.

It started with classes like Cultural Approaches to Math with Darrah Chavey and Alexis Grosofsky‘s Visual Perception and Art. Then, I researched about the arts and cognition with the help of Robin Zebrowski, which led me to bring an arts discussion program to an elementary school. It amazes me how powerful the arts truly are. Paintings and sculptures bring people closer to cultures different than their own and open up conversations about multiple disciplines as well as personal experiences, and they help us tap into different parts of our brain.

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So, when I approached Joy Beckman (the director of the Wright Museum of Art) during my senior year about an Honors Term in art educational programming at the Wright Museum, I was thrilled to learn that the timing was perfect.

Last year, the Wright Museum began to invite community organizations in for experiences in select exhibits. Joy and James Pearson (collections manager and exhibitions coordinator) wished for there to be more regular programming, so welcomed me in being a “guinea pig” for the development of a sustainable arts educational plan that would reach out to the Beloit community.

Building off of the earlier relationships that had been created, I contacted the Boys & Girls Club, Merrill Community Center, and the Help Yourself Program. The warm appreciation I received upon initiating further programming with these organizations made me even more thankful to have this chance at strengthening the museum-community connection.

Above all, I hope the young people who visit the museum find it an interesting and fun learning environment. I have been sure to incorporate hands-on activities where they can take their own direction and engage in new ways with the artworks. For example, for the upcoming event this Wednesday (Oct. 23) we will be making toys out of trash to capture the experience of the people living in Amira White’s photography of slums in Mumbai.

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I also strive for these youth events to uphold the Wright’s mission of fostering critical thinking.  By thoughtfully applying a variety of activities, the events will lead young visitors toward meaningful understandings of the Wright’s current exhibits. I drew from the insight I gained while running the Todd Elementary “Visual and Critical Thinking” afterschool program as well as working as a TA at the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s studio courses. These experiences showed me that getting kids to talk, move, and draw about an artwork or topic promotes a deeper understanding and connection.

So far, two youth events have taken place surrounding the “Sacred Lives of Objects” exhibit, a student-curated exhibition that follows objects from a variety of time periods and places.  Having been one of the students in Natalie Gummer’s class, I enjoyed coming up with ideas for the youth event. The local kids who came made masks, explored the gallery, mimicked objects with their bodies, and discussed an icon from the Wright’s educational collection that they could touch and hold.

Our young visitors showed curiosity and enjoyment during their hour at the Wright. Equally enthused were the student volunteers who stepped up to make them happen. Several of them, including Traci Spacek, Tess Childress, and Lauren Rivas, mentioned how refreshing and fun it was to be working with children. In fact, the student support that I have received thus far gives me a hopeful impression for the continuation of community arts programming in the Wright Museum’s future.