BRATTLEBORO—This school year, Brattleboro Museum & Art Center Museum Educator Linda Whelihan wants to bring more children to the museum. One way she hopes to accomplish that is by first bringing the museum to the children.
“I want kids to be more involved in the museum as a resource,” Whelihan said, “not just to look at art here.” She wants youth to “connect to it.”
In a new partnership between the Museum and the Windham Central Supervisory Union, Whelihan is working with fourth grade students in every school in the district, teaching them about different artists and styles of art, and deputizing the children as “junior curators.”
Earlier this year, the museum received a donation of an assortment of what Whelihan calls “ArtEd kits,” boxes containing a book about an artist — such as Jacob Lawrence, Frida Kahlo, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Rob Ryman — and the materials necessary to create pieces inspired by the artist.
“Each box has at least five activities relating to the art, and the box it all comes in turns into a frame with a hole so the students can hang their art,” Whelihan said.
Whelihan will visit each class with one series of ArtEd kits at a time, and relate that artist’s work to the current exhibits at the museum and to parts of the students’ curricula. After a few sessions with the students at their school, she will bring them to the museum.
As part of their preparation, Whelihan said she will ask the students, “What do you expect to find at a contemporary art museum? Beauty? Issues? History?”
“They can take what they learn here and curate shows at their schools about what they’re learning in their classes,” Whelihan said.
Students will have opportunities to show their ArtEd kit-related work during Student Art Month, at their schools, and in online exhibits.
Next April, during a musical performance by John Jorgensen at the Latchis Theatre, the students will display their art on the lobby walls. Whelihan said she also welcomes other ideas for showing the children’s art elsewhere in the community.
When asked why Whelihan chose fourth graders for the art boxes project, she said the material’s content is “developmentally good” for that age. Getting those students working with the boxes will also allow them to mentor the younger children “for another year or so before they go to middle school,” she said.
Whelihan’s project in the Windham schools is part of the Community Engagement Lab, funded by a Windham Foundation grant, seeking to get more art instruction into the district’s schools.
She said the teachers she works with are enthusiastic, and Superintendent William Anton is “very receptive” to the project.
The students love it, too.
“So far, [the] kids have been really excited to learn about Jacob Lawrence through the ArtEd kits and I’m looking forward to seeing how they use that introduction to whet their appetites for some of the work that we’ll have on display with our next show, ’Luscious,’” Whelihan said.
Although Whelihan is currently offering this project only in Windham County Supervisory Union fourth grade classes, she wants to work with children at other schools, too.
“I welcome any teacher to come in and talk about a tour for their class,” Whelihan said. “Use the museum as a resource for classroom work. For example, [teachers could] use the art as a writing prompt, and to reinforce what they’re learning in class.”