MMoCA / Doug Fath
Midvale Elementary School students study art from MMoCA's collection right in their school.
"There really is no wrong way to do it."
That's how Madeline, age 13, describes creating artwork. She and her classmates at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie are honing their artistic skills by participating in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Art on Tour program.
MMoCA offers a unique opportunity to students and their art teachers -- actual pieces from the permanent collection are installed in the school and studied, with lesson plans offered through the museum's website. Schools apply for the program and are chosen if they meet criteria for ideal climate control, security and light levels.
Currently MMoCA is working with nine area elementary and middle schools for a three-year period.
The program started when the former Madison Art Center was closed in 2004 while the new museum was under construction. Art on Tour was revived in 2013 thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Sheri Castelnuovo, MMoCA's curator of education, notes the benefits of the program she fostered.
"A school visit [to the museum] typically lasts a little over an hour, that's all. And the students are seeing a lot of things quickly," says Castelnuovo. "Through the program, the kids can really get to know the work and think about it. They can live with it for a period of time that is impossible on a school field trip."
Each year, an art teacher from each participating school chooses a month for the art to be installed in the school. The artwork fits a particular theme, with a new theme every year. This year, it's "When and Where Is It? Time and Place in Art."
Stefanie Kuehn, an art teacher at Prairie View Middle School, believes the Art on Tour pieces have inspired increased introspection and attention to detail among her students.
Students study the pieces through class discussions, completing sketches and writing papers; ultimately, they create a final art project. Many find contemplating the art on site extremely helpful, says Kuehn.
Art on Tour culminates with an annual reception at the museum in which a few students are selected by their art teachers to show their final pieces.
"It's amazing to see what the kids have done and how they have interpreted the art and the themes that have been featured. It's wonderful for us to see that," says Castelnuovo.
At a time when many schools have small budgets for their art programs, Art on Tour underlines the importance of the arts for education overall.
Art is not just enhancement, says Doug Marschalek, professor of art education at UW-Madison. "We can think of learning as a three-legged stool, where two legs are words and numbers, while the arts compose the third leg," says Marschalek. "The arts are essential to human development because they engage children in multiple aspects of learning simultaneously."
According to research from Americans for the Arts, students who participate in arts programs at least three times per week are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Arts advocates also stress that children who learn about art are more likely to participate in school science fairs, win awards for school attendance and be elected to class office.
Arts also boost self-esteem. "There is not one right answer in the arts. There are many, and this is empowering to children," says Marschalek.
Kuehn believes Art on Tour has had a positive effect on her students. "Many of my assignments are open-ended and have places for students who are overachievers and students who are struggling. A student can feel as if his voice is heard through visual communication. Art gives kids a sense of belonging, expression and accomplishment."
Madeline, whose work was chosen to appear in this year's reception at MMoCA, feels that Art on Tour was a great program for her and her classmates. Art, she explains "is very open-ended, and there are no rules. Whether it's on a canvas, using multimedia or simply on plain white paper, you're free to create whatever you want."
If your child is not enrolled in a school that participates in Art on Tour or doesn't have a strong art program, Castelnuovo recommends planning a trip to MMoCA.
"We have a lot of learning resources for families at the museum that are drop-in based, such as the Art Pack, a guide for interacting with the museum's art. While some pre-visit prep work with the museum's website will be helpful, it's not crucial.
"Even if you feel as if you don't have the knowledge to talk about the art itself," says Castelnuovo, "You and your children can just explore the museum with our resources."
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
227 State St., 608-257-0158, mmoca.org
MMoCA offers many programs for children in addition to Art on Tour, including ArtZone, mini-Museum, Kids' Art Adventures, Art Cart, Art Cart EXTRA! and a Girl Scout program. The museum's Young at Art exhibition of artwork from local students is scheduled for spring 2015.