In a fourth-grade classroom at Bradie Shrum Elementary School in rural Salem, Indiana, students have a gateway into the world of art that they did not have before. Since its inception in 2018, the Eskenazi Museum of Art Look Club has partnered with schools and libraries to make art collections housed at the Indiana University Eskenazi Museum of Art accessible to students in rural communities.
“The program provides school-based techniques for engaging with museum collections in ways that help teachers understand and utilize the healing and educational power of the arts,” said Kelly Jordan, pre-K-12 experiences manager at the Eskenazi Museum of Art. “We are connecting teachers, students and communities with our incredible collection of art from nearly every art-making culture in the world.”
Jordan works with community organizations, librarians, teachers and students at K-12 schools in Monroe, Pike, Perry, Washington, Gibson, Shelby and Marion counties.
The goal of the Look Club is to make the abundance of resources found at the Eskenazi Museum of Art available to everyone.
“Our goal is to provide innovative and meaningful experiences with art, wherever students are,” Jordan said. “In many rural communities, art programs and resources are in short supply, and students often miss out on the opportunity to visit the museum. Our mission is to try to bring arts-based learning and the museum experience to students across Indiana.”
Rural communities are often the most in need of this type of arts programming. According to an analysis from the Indiana Arts Commission, access to education in the arts and humanities drives advancement in business, technology and health. The analysis also showed that rural counties receive approximately a quarter of overall grants awarded to Indiana counties for arts programming, while urban counties receive three-quarters of those funds.
“Arts education can be limited in rural communities as well as high-poverty-rate areas due to resource limitations,” said Ursula Kuhar, senior lecturer in cultural policy and arts administration in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “It’s not uncommon to have one arts educator for an entire county-wide school corporation or no arts educators at all. Programs like the Look Club help fill the void by providing educators with techniques and resources to integrate the arts into their classrooms and expand arts access by leaps and bounds.”
The positive impact of investing in arts education can also be seen through its effect on health and innovation. The arts have been proven to be effective therapies in the treatment of trauma, anxiety and depression. Studies in neuroaesthetics have shown that engaging with the arts affects brain function, emotional response and the nervous system, and can create new neural pathways within the brain.
“At the end of the day, all learners benefit from arts engagement,” Kuhar said. “Arts education can lead students to finding their passion and their voice, and provide them with skills that will support them regardless of profession or field.”
During one of Jordan’s visits to Bradie Shrum Elementary School, she led students through two art-based activities. In the first activity, students observed a work of art from the museum collection and were asked to pose like the figures they saw depicted. In the second activity, students were shown a Japanese print and asked to describe the artwork to another student who could not see the print. The students who could not see the art then drew what they believed it looked like based on their partner’s verbal description.
Jordan said she often views the students as teachers themselves, because she has witnessed them using what they learn in the classrooms and libraries she visits and teaching those lessons to their parents and friends.
“One work of art can be used to teach history, science and writing while also offering cognitive development and social-emotional learning,” Jordan said. “Through art, students also become more aware of the big picture and cultural context in which they live. When we meet children where they are, speak to their hearts, bodies and minds, and inspire them to grow by engaging with the meaning and humanity found in works of art, we give them the foundation they need to grow into healthy, engaged adults and community members.”