Experts Take a Closer Look at How to Bolster Arts Education

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by Eugenia Miranda

 

Debra Mexicotte

Arts at Michigan program director Debra Mexicotte says, “We know a lot about the importance of the arts for K-12 students, but almost nothing really about the impact in the college years.”

Arts educators, college professors, students and higher ed administrators alike gathered Wednesday and Thursday at the City University of New York’s Baruch College for an intensive look at how arts education can be bolstered with outside organizations during the conference, “Museums and Higher Education in the 21st Century: Collaborative Methods and Models for Innovation.” The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City co-hosted the event, which opened with a reception and tour of its space in the Meat-packing District on Wednesday night and closed after a day’s worth of presentations on Thursday at the school.

For the “Museum Education and the University Student Experience” panel, Leonie Hannan, a teaching fellow in the Museum Department at the University College London, delineated how experiential learning with museum objects can make a huge impact on students across disciplines—whether in science, fine arts, music or dance. With tuition hikes across the board, she said, “There’s been an awful lot of chatter of improving the student experience, because they are customers as well. Teaching methods, especially at research institutions, are coming more closely into focus. There is still a strong tradition of lectures, but there are themes of active learning being recognized, especially by our youngest staff coming through. There is a bit of a tussle going on here, but in the end we’ll find that you need a little bit of both.”

Data collected at her overseas college in 2011 pointed to increased teamwork and engagement among pupils; however, students indicated that a combination of interactive learning and traditional-style lessons was most effective in subject-specific courses.

Marcie Karp, managing museum educator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then took the podium for a look at how the Met’s internship program is working with college students and the greater community to bolster arts education.

“If museums do nothing else, they’re going to create inspired museum educators,” she told Diverse prior to her presentation. “The Metropolitan Museum’s Teaching Corps Internship Program provides a unique gateway—it’s where our interns who are college and graduate students discover their passion and incorporate it into their teaching methodology.”

Whether it’s teaching local teens and K-12 students about art or creating lessons based on their favorite objects from the Met’s vast holdings, interns receive a rich experience that Karp said they go on to translate into many different fields.

“The direct experience of original works of art lies at the very heart of teaching in the Metropolitan Museum’s galleries,” she said. “Our primary goal is to produce teachers who are extraordinarily adept at connecting people to the art.”

Lastly, Arts at Michigan program director Debra Mexicotte took the conversation in another direction—a glimpse at a longitudinal study she has been undertaking for three years on co-curricular arts engagement in the college years and what role that plays in student development.

“We know a lot about the importance of the arts for K-12 students, but almost nothing really about the impact in the college years,” she said, noting that her organization connects undergraduates with co-curricular arts activities, helps them become leaders in the arts, or helps them with an arts-related major. Trips out of town, free tickets for students, funding programs for arts engagement inside and outside the classroom, newsletters, and more are just a few of the things being worked on by her group.

At the University of Michigan, she said, there has been a long-term conversation on the interdisciplinary nature of the arts throughout the college experience.

“More than 75 percent of our freshman students identify themselves as artists; you’d think that would be true at the end of four years, but I don’t think so,” Mexicotte said, noting that many of the survey participants said they are musicians or dancers or creative writers or many other forms of artists. “Is it OK for us as a liberal arts institution to lose their artist identity over that four years,” she asked.

With the pressure to pay ever-increasing student loans at the end of college and a flagging economy, many have chosen more financially secure career paths, Mexicotte said, but there is still a hunger among students to express their artistic abilities on campus, whether in extracurricular or co-curricular programming.

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