Teaching art helps children succeed

08/17/2014 7:00 PM

08/17/2014 12:35 PM

One child enthusiastically dives into a pile of colorful ribboned wires and begins to twist and bend them into different shapes, while a boy with his arms crossed stares down blankly. A teaching artist spots the pout and approaches him by putting a simple dome on the table and asks if he will help her to add to it. He reluctantly begins by curving one strip into a circle and soon his hesitation disappears.

We often assume that kids are endlessly creative, but those with few opportunities have yet to discover how talented and capable they can be. The creative process involves crossing and bending lines we once thought were rigid, trying and failing and trying again, perhaps finding that something even better than they imagined has suddenly taken shape. It’s a form of investment and risk taking.

Today, Florida’s public schools are working harder than ever with fewer resources to inspire students to succeed. Often one of the first areas to be impacted by reduced budgets is arts education, which encourages students to think critically, plan creatively, exercise their attention, their discussion skills and their collective understanding of cooperating and participating fully.

For lower income children, who may have fewer opportunities to visit museums or pursue private art classes, the value of teaching art in public forums has come into focus in recent years. According to a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) study, lower-income students who are engaged in the arts have better academic results, stronger college aspirations and higher levels of civic participation. In another study by the Arts Education Partnership, preschool students who were highly engaged in the arts had increased positive emotional reactions and a better ability to balance their emotions than those in traditional learning settings.

Museums like the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) are joining with corporate sponsors, like Bank of America, a longtime sponsor of art outreach efforts for youth, as well as individual donors and foundations to bring arts education into the very fabric of the communities they serve, partnering with schools, civic groups, non-profit organizations and businesses to provide access to the arts to a wider audience.

PAMM in the Neighborhood, one of our programs originally hosted through the former Miami Art Museum, is an example of this partnership approach. With the support of Bank of America, our program is a summer-long initiative that offers art experiences and education to nearly 8,000 low and middle-income children at parks and community centers throughout the county.

During the summer, teaching artists lead conversations that focus on images of contemporary art and students are encouraged to explore artistically using materials provided free of charge, including an art kit that they can take home and use throughout the summer and beyond.

Ultimately, programs like this are not only helping students learn about art and enjoy the experience of creating art, they demonstrate the importance of community-wide investment strategies when nonprofits, businesses, public entities and individual volunteers collaborate.

Another example of a model that brings art to life for underserved youth is The Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which brings performances and live concerts to children within and beyond their halls through school and community programs.

Like PAMM, the Arsht Center couldn’t have these programs without support from public and private partners like, the State of Florida, Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and the OMNI Community Redevelopment Agency; and there isn’t a major arts organization in Miami that hasn’t been catalyzed by The Knight Foundation, including PAMM’s Knight Schools Program that brings over 24,000 students and teachers to the museum annually.

By bringing art education to children beyond their walls and with public and private partner support, museums do their part to ensure that the creative potential of every child takes shape. A community-wide investment in the arts ensures that South Florida children, regardless of background, grow up with the opportunity to meet challenges that require new ways of thinking, communicating and connecting.

Emily Mello is deputy director for education and public programs at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

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