The Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) champions artists who present new perspectives and explore pressing cultural and sociopolitical issues. As a public arts institution in a university art museum, the Hammer emphasizes educational initiatives that reflect interdisciplinary expertise, academic rigor, and best practices in the museum field. The Hammer’s K-12 school and teacher programs aligns with the institution’s mission: The Hammer Museum at UCLA believes in the promise of art and ideas to illuminate our lives and build a more just world. Educational initiatives at the Hammer seek to cultivate meaningful personal connections to art, foster critical engagement with the world, and break down barriers to accessing opportunities for creativity and arts learning among underfunded schools.
These goals can only be achieved through extended, sustained engagement with art. Most students have experienced a field trip to a museum with one- to two-hour tours, but very few have the opportunity to learn in a museum for a full school week. Now in its eighth year, Classroom-in-Residence at the Hammer (CRH) offers two classes of 4th, 5th, or 6th grade students the opportunity to learn in an art museum as if it was their school for five consecutive days. In preparation for this arts-rich experience, classroom teachers receive eight months of professional development. Due to this program’s innovative model of immersive and transformative learning, the American Alliance of Museums awarded CRH the 2019 EdCom Award for Excellence in Programming.
CRH’s unique five-day residency is key to the program’s success. This multi-day format offers students the excitement and stimulation of a new learning environment while also providing structure similar to class periods in school. By the second day of the residency, CRH students have already settled into a routine and increased their comfort level in the museum. As a result, they are better able to focus on their learning and connect more deeply with program staff and art in ways that can only be accomplished over an extended period of time. The student connections emerging from this program have been profoundly personal and moving: students are more confident in their capabilities as artists, and many have been able to channel personal challenges into creative artworks. The transformative nature of the program is reflected in this 5th grader’s journal reflection: “I feel good about art because it changed my life. Also it changed how I feel about art. I love art so much.”
A Unique Collaboration between a Museum, University, and Public Schools
CRH began in 2012 through a collaboration between the Hammer Museum, the Visual and Performing Arts Education Program (VAPAE) at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, the UCLA Community School, and Dr. Gillian Kydd, Founder of the Open Minds Program in Calgary, Canada. The Open Minds Program offers participating students immersive, week-long instruction in educationally rich sites such as museums, zoos, and nature centers. At the core of the Open Minds philosophy is the idea that learning is enhanced when you slow down and take time to observe the world.
With funding from the Anthony Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation and additional funding from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, Resnick Foundation, and the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, CRH expanded Dr. Kidd’s week-long residency model through the unique collaboration between a museum, a university, and public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Due to this collaboration, students benefit from museum, higher education, and classroom teacher expertise. During the residency, students engage with original works of art with museum educators, discover art careers from museum and university staff, and receive lessons from the individual that knows the students best—their classroom teacher, who has received training to best integrate art into humanities curricula. Additionally, LAUSD students benefit from extended learning through pre-residency and post-residency art lessons taught in their classrooms by UCLA VAPAE students, and in turn, VAPAE students gain experience teaching in the community. As a result, the lesson plans resulting from this collaboration are much more effective than lessons that would be developed by any one partner alone.
A significant number of students in LAUSD are in great need of this type of quality arts instruction. LAUSD is the second largest school district in the United States. Approximately 82 percent of LAUSD students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals due to their socioeconomic status, and more than seven thousand students are in the foster care system. Resources are stretched thin, and arts instruction has suffered under frequent budget cuts. To best serve the needs of students in the school district, the Hammer and VAPAE prioritize underfunded schools with the aim of offering arts instruction to those who need it most.
Transformative Learning for Teachers and Students
The program works best when the right school partners are selected: school administrators must be willing to support a significant departure from traditional curricula, and teachers should be invested in their own professional development as much as they are to their students’ growth. Following a three-day teacher institute in the summer, teachers commit to receiving one-on-one guidance on their arts-integrated lessons throughout the academic year. This customized professional development has long-lasting impacts on teachers—and ultimately their students. Long after the residency is over, teachers continue to integrate the arts into their curricula. A skill that was once daunting has become embedded into their teaching practice.
In addition to the two classes of students and their teachers who participate in the residency, the Hammer also opens up its summer institute enrollment to teachers from 20 other schools. Since the program’s inception, the Hammer has served nearly 400 students through direct participation in the program and over 5,000 students indirectly through the lessons that trained teachers implement year after year. As a result of participating in the program, one teacher noted:
Before this program I didn’t have any clue how to integrate the arts in my classroom—I thought of the arts as something separate, something extra, that I didn’t have the time or the experience to do. Now I can integrate the arts into anything I teach…and I am integrating the arts in some way almost daily. This changes everything!
With teachers working in close partnership with museum staff, their students are able to strengthen their critical thinking skills. Throughout the program, students examine multiple artworks, each for an extended amount of time, and they learn how to make evidence-based inferences about what they see. One classroom teacher remarked:
The strategies we learned and used in the galleries and the classroom made [students] think in a different way, give answers in a different way…it wasn’t hands shooting up to be the first one to provide an answer, any answer, it was a deep examination of what they thought and why they thought it.
Intensive programs that yield significant results like CRH are only possible if an institution can prioritize the quality of learning over the quantity of learners served. CRH is proof that if cultural institutions truly invest time and resources into the communities we serve, transformative experiences are possible.
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