As students and teachers are settling back into their fall schedules, I can’t help but recognize the strengths of being physically present again in a classroom. During the height of the pandemic, I was teaching art at a high school in Milwaukee and experiencing the challenges that all educators faced during the times of virtual and/or hybrid instruction. In my new role as a Woodson Art Museum curator of education, I have settled in and now feel at home in the Museum galleries — my new classroom.
Last month, we safely welcomed our first group of students to the Museum after a long, pandemic-necessitated hiatus. The students toured the 2021 Birds in Art exhibition and completed a hands-on art project in our classroom. I felt right at home alongside other educators, docents, and children in the galleries discussing students’ favorite artworks. Anyone walking through the galleries could sense the energy and excitement of the young minds taking in the experience.
During his recent artist residency, sculptor Tom Hill has enjoyed welcoming students and other groups touring our campus into the Museum classroom. Tom taught community members how to construct and contribute wire birds to his collaborative flock, installed in the Museum’s “aviary,” a.k.a. glass-enclosed stairway, to depict an undulating murmuration. The process of hands-on learning and art making with an artist like Tom is an experience that leaves a huge impact on the minds of young creators. Museum staff each made and contributed a wire bird or two to Tom’s piece, too.
The education crew also visited off-site locations to continue production of Tom’s “murmuration” through community outreach. Curator of education Catie Anderson, education assistant Holly Van Eperen, and I went to Wausau West High School to work alongside Tom as he guided sculpture students in their completion of wire birds while sharing more about his process.
In my experience as an educator, these “hands-on” moments and real-world interactions with artists are some of the most memorable, for students, teachers, and artists. Safely welcoming students to the Woodson Art Museum’s campus for tours means that our galleries and classrooms are bustling with energy, curiosity, and creativity. I’m sure these Museum experiences will be remembered for a long time to come.