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The art of learning: School programs

Though there is little art entering the schools in Maryland, each year tens of thousands of children from schools throughout Maryland come to the Baltimore Museum of Art to see, to learn and to be amazed by the enriching beauty that is held inside the Museum.

It is through the exhibits held in the walls of the Baltimore Museum of Art that each student is enriched just a little bit more. By being able to view a Picasso at the age of 8, or continually viewing the newer visiting exhibits all throughout the year, students get to connect with the art world.

Many schools in Maryland bring their students to the Museum to participate in tours given by the Museum's docents. Because the Baltimore Museum of Art is committed to keeping tour groups small to promote learning, the Museum depends on more than 130 volunteer docents who undergo comprehensive training and weekly continuing education. Docents are volunteers who help children and adults understand what goes into art so they can view the pieces and understand what they are viewing in an educated way. Through this, docents create a spark between a work of art and a child's mind, igniting a passion that can last a lifetime.

Trained to engage students of many ages and backgrounds, docents provide an array of in-depth tours, tailored to meet the needs and reinforce the concepts of the school curriculum. Many docents read up on what the students are studying prior to the students' visit to ensure that they will be able to relate to the artwork they are viewing. The docents feel that through educating the students about art, they are allowing a greater depth into what they will then want to know about the history of the world at large. The Museum’s school tours are designed to enhance increased visual literacy and critical thinking through consideration of artworks from different cultures and time periods.

To enhance the artistic experience even more, the Museum offers the Close Encounters program, an in-depth six-week art experience for Baltimore City fourth graders. Students in turn become familiar with the Museum by visiting it a total of four times. Twice they visit the Museum; on the other two occasions, Baltimore Museum of Art's educators and docents visit the classroom. This close relationship between Museum staff and the students allows for the students to become comfortable with the staff, their surroundings, and most importantly the art. By doing this, the students will gain an understanding of art, being able to place certain paintings or exhibits in categories based on similarities in design, pattern and color and by doing so the students are learning a great deal more than they had ever known about art before.

As children learn to look they are encouraged to extend their capacity for visual thinking to their homes and neighborhoods. Visual literacy thus becomes a fundamental means by which students can engage fully with the richness of everyday experience, enticing them to stretches of the imagination beyond the ordinary. This program has proven what so many believe: children want to learn about art and if exposed to it, make art a meaningful part of their lives.

This sentiment is clearly felt by Marcia Gregory, the docent and tour program manager of education and interpretation for the Baltimore Museum of Art. Working closely with the youth of the community with tours and free exhibitions, Gregory looks to broaden the horizons of young impressionable children by introducing to artists such as Picasso, Gauguin, and Cézanne, just a few of the many outstanding collections of modern art in the world featured at the Museum.

In 2003, more than 25,000 school children and almost 6,000 teachers in the region were served through tours, outreach and other educational initiatives. The Baltimore Museum of Art developed a curriculum of materials as well, often supplying teachers with their only tools to teach art in their classrooms.

“I think this program was a great eye opener and hands-on experience to art, history and culture. It was also great because we do not have an art program in our school. As a teacher with no art background, this program really benefited my class and me” said Veronica Gugliucciello of Gardenville Elementary School

Each child who participates in Close Encounters receives a high-quality, hardbound blank sketchbook to write, imagine, reflect, and drawn upon their own lived experiences, Museum's exemplars, and their observations of the world around them. A plastic portfolio equipped with colored pencils and modeling clay is distributed to each student. And many students then return to explore the Museum with their families, thanks to a free one-year Family Membership awarded at the programs conclusion.

This is just one of many outreach programs that Gregory is hopeful will entice at least one person to become interested in the arts who before could never even fathom walking in an art museum, let alone take part in a long details program such as Close Encounters.

“We really want to develop their (kids') awareness of the power of art that can truly broaden their horizons,” said Gregory.

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