Arts Education: A Continuing Legacy at the Gibbes

Arts education has always been central to the mission of the Gibbes Museum of Art. In 1912, the Charleston Sketch Club was formed and aspired to be “the basis of an art school where the fine arts in all branches should be taught by the best of teachers in the Gibbes art building.” With exhibition space, lecture room, and art studios, the museum was a hub for local artists and art supporters. Archival photographs show artists poised in front of their easels in a museum classroom in 1910. Another photograph shows artist Minnie Mickell working in the Gibbes Art Gallery Studio in 1925. By 1965, in need of additional exhibition space, the museum purchased 76 Queen Street, now the popular Husk restaurant, for its school of art. Studio art classes included drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, and clay and were held in this location for many years. As a college graduate in 1993, I took a drawing class in the Queen Street studio. Little did I know that nearly 20 years later, I would be an employee at the museum—a dream come true! Arts education has always been a vital part of the museum no matter where the actual classes have been held, and this focus on art education continues today.

Minnie Michael at work

Minnie Michael painting in the Gibbes Art Gallery.

Recent research from a partnership between the University of Arkansas and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has validated this mission through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum. Researchers were able to determine that strong relationships exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes. In other words, art makes students smart!

In an ongoing partnership with Charleston County School District Title I schools, the Gibbes education outreach program, Art to Go, combines art making and instruction through firsthand experiences with works of art. The goal of the program is to increase understanding of visual expression, creativity, and art. Gibbes Teaching Artists work with public schools to enhance the schools’ art curriculum. Through this program, the museum’s notable collection is explored as part of the instruction along with a field trip to the museum. All lessons are designed to broaden students’ understanding of art principles, art history, and creative expression.

A mosaic created for the 2012 Charleston Marathon

A mosaic created for the 2012 Charleston Marathon by Mitchell Elementary School students.

Art to Go has been implemented in five local Title I schools including Angel Oak, Murray LaSaine, Mitchell, Pinehurst, and Goodwin Elementary. “Our Art to Go program has been a great success year after year. It’s a wonderful partnership and collaborative effort that enhances the visual arts curriculum,” says Gibbes Museum Curator of Education, Rebecca Sailor.

Art to Go program at Angel Oak Elementary.

Students at work in the Art to Go program at Angel Oak Elementary.

Local artist and Gibbes Museum teaching artist Kristen Solecki has been involved in the Art To Go program for two years. She appreciates the access to fine arts and art education that the program provides to her students. “However, perhaps even more importantly it gives them confidence and pride,” she adds. This year Kristen is teaching at Angel Oak Elementary on Johns Island, a Title 1 neighborhood school that serves approximately 350 students.

“One week we learned about printmaking. This is a very forgiving medium and allows students to create abstract pieces using simple line and form. Students were so excited to reveal their prints and to show each other what they made. They would encourage each other and tell one another, ‘great job!’ ‘Wow! Look at hers!’ Some students would even ask me to show their work to siblings who were coming into the next class after them. The best part is seeing the same students later in the day walking around with their work still in hand.”

Kristen explains that her students have also been working on a mosaic mural where each child’s hand painted work makes up a piece of the giant mosaic. “We have assembled it and each child’s work is crucial because without it our mural will be missing a piece. This mutual respect between peers, teachers, and students, is wonderful. Art class encourages students to experiment, express their ideas, and to create. There is not a stress on perfection, it is a medium to celebrate who you are. When I walk through the halls on the way to class, students stop me and ask if I will be coming to their class today, and that they cannot wait for art.  I don’t think you could ask for anything better.”

Art to Go at Angel Oak Elementary

Artwork from the 2013 Art to Go program at Angel Oak Elementary.

For several years the museum has collaborated with the Charleston Marathon, which benefits the Youth Endowment for the Arts, a local non-profit that supports fine arts programming in Charleston County Schools. Gibbes Teaching Artists work with schools to create structures designed for the race expo that signifies the marathon’s purpose: Going the Distance for the Arts. Dr. James Braunreuther, Charleston County Fine Arts Learning Specialist says,

“The Charleston Marathon and the Gibbes Art to Go programs were both designed to offer greater opportunities in the arts for the children of Charleston County. It is only logical that these two tremendous programs would work together to increase the impact of both. The Charleston Marathon raises funds to support arts programs while increasing awareness of the importance of health and movement. The Gibbes museum supports this effort by working with schools to produce art work that highlights the athlete in the artist and the artistry of the athlete.”

This year’s marathon takes place the weekend of January 17–18 and the student’s artwork will be exhibited at the Health and Fitness Expo on Friday, January 17, 2014, held in the gymnasium at Burke Middle High School, 244 President Street. Come out and see the beautiful and creative art work the students have created. Enjoy the rewards of an arts education and maybe you’ll decide to enroll in a class yourself! To see a full listing of our studio art classes visit gibbesmuseum.org/events.

Amy Mercer, marketing and communications manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

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