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Art Art News Education

Living Legacy: The Junior Docent School Program Fosters Art Education for Over 40 Years!

Student reproduction of Cubi IV by artist David Smith.

Offered at the Museum since 1976, the Junior Docent School Program (JDSP) is a multi-year, multi-visit program for upper elementary students. Legendary Museum Educator Barbara Brown Lee developed the program along with two art-advocating Milwaukee school teachers, and it has since become a model for Museums across the nation, adding depth to art education with its intentional multi-visit design. 

At MAM, the program includes ten themed, docent-guided tours, given to students over the course of three years. In the first year, students learn about the elements of art and are encouraged to investigate works using their senses. In the second year, students make personal and interpersonal connections with art by exploring Portraiture, Wisconsin Stories, and Communities and Traditions. In the third year of JDSP, students extend their understanding of art and history with an American Stories tour and an Antiquities to Contemporary tour—and eventually select a work of art for the culminating capstone graduation project. 

Once a favorite work of art is selected, students learn formal presentation skills, research their artwork and artist, create a reproduction, and showcase imagination with a creative response. Some of the most memorable student responses have included dressing in costume, playing self-composed music, and performing an interpretive dance inspired by the work of art. During the final tour, which represents three years of learning, the students share their work with family, peers, teachers, and Museum staff, and officially become Junior Docents.

Creative responses come in many forms

This year, however, MAM and the students participating in the JDSP were given the special opportunity to share their experience with a much broader audience. Beginning in August, Museum educators worked with Milwaukee PBS and ALBA School in Milwaukee to tell the story of the Junior Docent School Program as it began its 43rd year. Film crews captured the first “oohs” and “aahs” as third grade students entered our wing-topped building for the first time, and they followed a group of fifth graders on their journey to becoming Junior Docents.

5th grade JDSP students on the American Stories tour accompanied by PBS film crew.

Producer Tiffany Pua and the film crew of PBS’s The Arts Page captured hours of footage in the Museum and at school, and interviewed Museum staff, docents, teachers, and alum of JDSP. The results of this collaboration are neatly packaged into a 26-minute television special, which first aired on September 26, 2019. Before their big television debut, ALBA students were invited back to the Museum for an exclusive sneak peek of the program, complete with red carpet photo ops and plenty of refreshments. Students shared in the excitement, as they saw their friends—and themselves—appear on the big screen inside Lubar Auditorium. It was a heartwarming end to another great year of the Junior Docent School Program. 

ALBA School JDSP students pose on the red carpet before the premiere of the Arts Page television program.

Missed out on seeing our Junior Docents on The Arts Page? You can still watch the full episode online.

For more information on the Junior Docent School Program, visit teachers.mam.org or email teachers@mam.org.

Categories
Art Art News Education

Milwaukee Art Museum Celebrates Arts in Education Year-round

At the Museum, the impact of arts education can often be seen and heard—from the awe-inspired gazes upon entering the Calatrava-designed building, to the questions, discussions, and laughter that frequently fill the galleries.

In 2010, National Arts in Education Week was officially recognized by Congress and, since then, schools and institutions across the country have continued to celebrate annually, the second week in September. Championed by the non-profit organization, Americans for the Arts, this celebration is designed to encourage educational decision makers and elected officials to support what art museums have known for a long time: The arts are essential for a well-rounded education and for creating access and inclusivity to that end. Art museums commonly support this initiative with school programs and education departments that know all about the powerful impact of the arts in transforming learning experiences for visitors of all ages. 

The MAM education department takes pride in celebrating and supporting arts in education year-round by offering something for everyone—from animal-themed student tours to professional development for teachers. Over 150 docent educators are dedicated to delivering high quality arts experiences on guided tours to over 50,000 school children each year. Each of the guided tours is designed to align with state and national standards for art education and commonly overlap with writing, social studies, and history curriculum standards as well. A growing number of teacher workshops are hosted to help educators incorporate art into their curriculum (and often include a themed guided tour!). 

So how do docent-guided tours support the arts in education? Each tour, based on a pre-selected theme, provides engaging learning activities in the galleries. Students and docents exchange intergenerational knowledge and perspectives while interpreting works of art in a variety of ways. At a 12:1 student to docent ratio, students are encouraged to develop personal connections with art and share ideas within a small group. Name tags allow docents to praise, question, and call on students by name, as curiosity is piqued amidst intriguing works of art. Students get to slow down and dig deeper into the stories behind works of art through thought-provoking questions and participation in discussions.

Many studies, such as the recently published NAEA-AAMD Study: Impact of Art Museum Programs on K-12 Students, have proven that cultural enrichment opportunities can reach beyond classroom walls and into the community. Studies like these have also proven that art museum field trips promote critical and creative thinking skills, offer real-world learning, enhance observation skills, and help students empathize with life experiences from multiple perspectives and from different times and places. 

Help us celebrate arts in education all year long by visiting with your teacher and school groups, or stop in for a weekend drop-in tour with a docent educator. We look forward to welcoming the next generation of curators, conservators, patrons, and, of course, artists that walk through our doors each year, benefiting from museum field trips in ways we have yet to see. And in the wise words of a thank you note from a visiting nine-year-old student, “The art museum is the best! They have so many paintings from so many different artists. If we didn’t have the art museum, I don’t know where I could get my insperashion. I know that the art museum is very important, so having the opportunity to take a tour to learn more is even better!”