Mason Art Educators Collaborate with Smithsonian American Art Museum

Posted: April 7, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Renee Sandell’s class, Teaching Critical Response to Art, Pre-K to 12, continues to offer future art educators the opportunity to step outside the classroom for a different kind of art teaching experience.

Building on a foundation of collaboration, Mason partners with museums in the Washington, D.C., area for a project titled “Talking About Art: From Past to Present, Here to There.” Students in the art education class work with museum educators to develop a family tour called “Artful Adventures.”

The program began four years ago; this semester, students worked closely with the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington, D.C.

“As a program that continues to evolve, the family-focused tour serves many purposes,” says Sandell, professor of art and visual technology and director of graduate art education programs.

“It helps museum educators who are trying to get visitors to creatively explore art, and it allows students to work with original objects from which to develop meaningful experiences for families.”

MAT class
Students in the Teaching Critical Response to Art, Pre-K to 12, class. Professor Renee Sandell is at far left.
Photo courtesy of Elynn Cangro

Sandell initiated the program in 1991, when she taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art and partnered with the Baltimore Museum of Art. When she came to Mason, she instituted the program as part of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program.

According to Susan Nichols, Lunder Education chair for the SAAM, working with students in the class made her feel like a part of the Mason community. Nichols helped the students prepare by giving them useful strategies for developing their tours, provided them with the museum’s online resources and evaluated and critiqued their tours after they were completed.

“I wanted to get involved in the “Artful Adventures” program because I had seen the students’ work in previous semesters at other museums and felt it would be a great experience for the students in the class to work with the SAAM,” says Nichols.

“The hands-on experience the students had while working with a live audience and with real objects at the museum will be incredibly valuable in their paths to becoming art educators.”

At the beginning of the semester, students visited the museum and chose one of their favorite pieces as a subject of study. Back in the classroom, the students posted their drawings of the selected object, divided into groups of four and created a tour that would allow families to use their imagination to “step into” works of art with creative, hands-on activities.

MAT graduate student Sharon Burke and her group created a tour theme called “Smart Art Card Museum Metro Ride.” The objects in Burke’s group represented four studio processes of 20th-century American artwork: painting, sculpture, installation and printmaking. During the tour, the families used their specially created “smart art card” to go on an imaginative Metro ride, stopping at each piece of artwork along the way.

“The children that were involved during our two-hour tour had some of the most creative imaginations and responded to our artwork selections with enthusiasm and great interest,” says Burke.

“It was an incredibly valuable learning experience for the students because we were able to work hand-in-hand with the museum and realized how rewarding it can be to help families become more involved with art and the museum culture.”

After the museum tour project concluded, students have continued to “own” their object, and will become experts on their works of art by creating an instructional resource. For this resource, each student will conduct more research on his or her object and compare its form, theme and context to other objects and ideas to enhance its meaning and history.

For a final project, students will create an interpretive work of art that reflects the in-depth study of their SAAM object. Nichols will be a guest critic when these works are exhibited at the last class of the semester.

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