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Helping Evanston Schoolchildren Appreciate Art

September 11, 2006

Giving students the opportunity to see an original work of art in person is important, says Evanston art teacher Mel Wolff.

That’s just one of a host of reasons why Wolff brings her students from Pope John XXIII School in Evanston to Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art several times a year to participate in the museum’s Creative Writing and Drawing in the Galleries Program.

“It’s just not the same to see slides of pictures or copies,” she says. “When the students know that they are seeing something up close that a real artist has created, the work takes on a different dimension.”

The Creative Writing and Drawing in the Galleries Program began about three years ago as a way to introduce area schoolchildren from kindergarten through 12th grade to the joys and benefits of visiting an art museum.

“For many of the children, this is the first time that they’ve been to a museum,” says Amy Brandolino, director of educational programs at the Block Museum. “Our goal is to help them feel comfortable.”

Two other goals of the program are to teach children that there are many responses and interpretations to art and that a work of art can serve as a catalyst or inspiration for another drawing, poem or story.

Up to 30 students at a time come to the Block Museum for an hour-long tour and an interactive activity such as creating a drawing or writing a poem, story or journal entry. As they walk through the doors, the students are given a drawing board and drawing materials and/or what they need to create a written piece.

After a short introduction to the exhibit, the students look at about five or six works of art. Brandolino says she always starts with a discussion.

“I ask a question to try to get the students to think about what the work of art might be about and to get them excited about it. Usually, they come up with several different stories so I can emphasize that there can be many different interpretations,” she says.

After the tour and the discussion, the students are given an assignment, based on the exhibit, to compete on their own. For example, if the students were looking at a caricature, Brandolino might ask them to come up with a list of questions they would like to ask the person. Sometimes, she even has the students trade papers and answer the questions from the person in the picture’s point of view.

Often the students also do a follow-up activity back at their respective schools based on the lesson plans written by Brandolino, available on Block Museum’s Web site.

Although Brandolino and her trained volunteers offer several set tours and programs, all of which fulfill Illinois State Learning Standards, Brandolino encourages teachers to call if they don’t see anything that fits their curriculum so she can tailor a program to their needs.

That’s what happened with Wolff and her students from Pope John XXIII School.

“I didn’t see the type of field trip I wanted, so I called up and talked with Amy,” Wolff remembers. “She said, ‘no problem’ and changed the tour to accommodate us. Ever since then, we’ve had a great relationship, and we’ve gone back quite a few times.”

In addition to being able to show her students original works of art, Wolff also likes the museum’s small atmosphere because it means her students can wander around at their own pace and still be supervised.

School tours cost $25, and reservations should be made three weeks in advance. For more information, call Brandolino at (847) 491-4852.

Topics: Campus Life