Hope for the Future
Beginning a new year almost requires a renewal of hope. Mine springs from an article in The New York Times that describes a research study confirming the benefits of museum visits on students, especially those whose backgrounds limited the likelihood of their stepping inside an art museum.
Since it opened in November 2011, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas has had private funding, which enables school groups to visit at no cost. Situated in an area where there had been no art museums, response was overwhelming. Because a lottery was necessary to accommodate the situation, the museum staff and researchers seized an opportunity. The lottery winners would take a museum tour and the losers, who became the control group, would not.
All students were tested, using surveys that included “items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions.” An additional requirement was to write an essay about an unfamiliar work of art, which was assessed for its critical thinking skills.
Students who were randomly selected to visit the museum on a field trip “demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.” Low-income, rural and minority students made significant gains (2-3 times larger) than white, middle-class, suburban students.
The idea that one field trip could make a significant difference stuns even me. During the 1950s, it took a city (Buffalo, New York) that was invested in my education to open up the arts to at least one low-income student (me). People with money and vision underwrote an investment in my future. For more details, please read 2004 November Judy’s Journal.
I wonder how many students live in cities WITH art museums and never gone inside, even if admission is free (Butler Museum of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, for example). I amend my previous sentence to include teachers, from whom I have heard the following statements: “The curriculum is already too full.” “There isn‘t enough money for buses to bring the students.” “Oh, art (or poetry) is not my thing, so I wouldn’t know what to say about it.”
How can you get shut out from what should be a large piece of your humanity? Why do so many people feel as if they were never invited into the cultural arts club? What can we do to bring people in?