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Art and Artifacts
At the Dorsky Museum on the SUNY New Paltz campus, educator Zachary Bowman works with Ulster BOCES, the New York State Arts Teachers Association, and the college's own resources to get students face-to-face with its 9,000 square feet containing 5,500 works spanning 4,000 years of global culture. "For Title I schools in underserved districts, just paying for the busses to get here can be prohibitive," says Bowman. "So the decision was made to establish a pool of funding for that. We've had a group from Newburgh Free Academy come to an exhibit that fit what they were studying. We've welcomed a number of art classes, but our collection can enrich other areas—say you're teaching Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, we can pull out actual toy-related objects, create a physical connection across time."
Dia Beacon began collaborating with Beacon city schools in 2001, before the museum was officially open. "Every year, an artist partners with the district for in-school and on-site programming; tours are guided by practicing artists who make it a very experiential, participatory experience with the student at the center," Director of Education Meagan Mattingly says. "We have teachers who've been working with us since the beginning. We have an intensive program that's open to high schoolers from all over the region; they can participate for all four years, and some go on to become interns and employees here. It's really important to us that there be no barriers for entry. The Arts Education program is part of the Sackler Institute at Dia Art Foundation, and is completely free for students. Not every teen participating is a visual artist; we get a mix of all kinds of creative and critical thinkers, and our artists work as allies to help them understand how to make their ideas actionable."
No discussion of museum-school collaboration in the Hudson Valley could be complete without a mention of the goings-on at Historic Huguenot Street, where the oldest original neighborhood in the US is expanding and refining its already-rich programming under the direction of award-winning museum and interpretive planner Liselle LaFrance. Little ones meet "Hugo the Huguenot," write with quills, visit a wigwam, and play period games in costume. Teens study "Life and Death in the 1700s" with the aid of video, house tours, and the French Church Burial Ground, or interrogate French portraiture.
Every program offering lists the precise Standards and Common Core requirements met; on the testimonial page an informal standard that may be at least as crucial is mentioned. "Middle school students are challenging," writes a 7th grade teacher. "The information was presented in such a dynamic, interesting manner that all the students were continually engaged...All the students raved about how interesting the tour was and were able to describe various historical facts they learned."
The list goes on; this is but a slice of the programming available should Governor Cuomo see fit to sign the Museum Education bill into law. And museum educators are always eager to see more kids. "Give me any idea, and I'll find objects that are related," says the Dorsky's Bowman. "Most museums are eager to align with schools. We want all the teachers and all the students to know this is for them, this is something they can feel comfortable with, take some ownership. And of course, we hope we're inspiring lifelong museum visitors in the process."