21st Century Skills:
Pictured above: Bedroom Painting No. 7, 1967–69, by Tom Wesselmann (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with the Adele Haas Turner and Beatrice Pastorius Turner Memorial Fund, 1972-156-1). Art © Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in partnership with The Barnes Foundation, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has developed a new initiative called Art Speaks! This partnership engages the Philadelphia School District’s 14,000 fourth graders around art appreciation, visual literacy, information literacy, and communication skills, through onsite museum experiences.
Museum educators from the five participating institutions worked closely with school district officials to create the Art Speaks! curriculum, which introduces fourth graders to art museums and art concepts while reinforcing reading, writing, and creative thinking strategies that are embedded in the school district’s literacy and visual arts curricula. Fourth-grade teachers receive supplemental teaching materials to assist in planning a free class trip to one of the five participating institutions. Teachers are given a manual, activity sheets, and other resources for writing and discussion activities, an orientation DVD to play for students, and five teaching posters and a CD-ROM that will introduce one work of art from each institution. These works are: the ceremonial teahouse Sunkaraku, designed by Ogi Rodo (Philadelphia Museum of Art); Henri Matisse’s painting Seated Riffian (The Barnes Foundation); Faith Ringgold’s story quilt Tar Beach 2 (The Fabric Workshop and Museum); Alexander Calder’s sculpture Jerusalem Stabile (on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania); and Winslow Homer’s painting Fox Hunt (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts).
Works of art naturally foster conversation, creative thinking, discussion, and even friendly debate—all hallmarks of the literacy concepts fourth graders are learning in school. As students gear up to visit a visual arts institution (a first for many participants), Art Speaks! enhances their knowledge of art and artists and reveals how the literacy skills they are practicing in school come into play in real life situations. The initiative focuses on the ability to "describe, compare, discuss, interpret, and express" by having students write about their knowledge using various forms (e.g., postcards, journal entries) before and after the visit. Students complete an evaluation matrix after the visit, and these evaluations have shown a significant improvement in student writing after the onsite museum experience.
"Art Speaks! is a milestone collaboration," said Marla Shoemaker, senior curator of education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Never before have five art institutions in the region worked together on a project like this. The children in Philadelphia’s public schools are the future stewards of our great cultural resources, and they deserve access now and always to the best of what this city has to offer. By linking with public school curricula in art and literacy, museum trips become a serious part of each student’s education, both as a fourth grade learner mastering reading, writing, and creative thinking, and also as a participant in the cultural life of our great city."
The program serves as a vibrant model of how multiple museums can work with schools—as well as each other—to enhance art knowledge and critical skills among broad, previously unreached audiences.