The Allen Memorial Art Museum has, over the last three weeks, put local children through an intensive program of education and production. These students, third through fifth graders, come from as close as Oberlin and as far as Amherst. They're here to learn about art, make their own art, and in the end, be more comfortable in art museums. This Saturday will be the culmination of their effort, a display of what those students have produced over the last weeks, and is aptly called Kidzhibit.
Such programs are a tradition at the AMAM and have enjoyed mixed success. Last semester Megan Burness, the museum education intern, tried something similar with middle school children; that program was poorly advertised and that combined with the fact that older students were targeted resulted in very few people signing up. Ultimately that program was canceled.
This time the students were younger and the publicity was strong. Burness distributed flyers to teachers in local schools, and they were disseminated from there. Judging from my interviews, the flyers eventually got to parents, who asked their kids if they wanted to try the program. The program was so popular, in fact, that Kidzhibit added an afternoon class, doubling its capacity, and still had a waiting list of 20 children.
Alexis Washburn, a fifth grader at Amherst's Shoot Middle said she "was really happy my mom signed me up for it."
Michael Dunn, a fourth grader at Copopa Elementary, took a different road to Kidzhibit; he won a schoolwide art contest, and was automatically enrolled. And Emmet Lodge's parents wanted him to do the program to meet other kids. Lodge is homeschooled.
There might have been even more at work here. One participant, Christine Spencer, of Oberlin's own Prospect Elementary, brought a flyer home from school and showed it to her mom - an art teacher. And Lodge's father restores paintings; he grew up with modern art in his garage.
Gender wasn't a factor. About a third of both the morning and afternoon classes are male. That's unusual for any art class in that age bracket. Participants seemed to be evenly spread between the three grades represented, and students of every race were there as well.
Of course, there was more to the program's success than good advertising and enthusiastic parents. Megan Burness coordinated the whole ordeal, down to finding age-appropriate projects for her participants. She also had support from the Museum and the College's communications office.
Two Oberlin College students were working on Kidzhibit with Burness, first-year Brooke Wilson and sophomore Sherri Wasserman. "I love kids and I love art, so I think this is the perfect job," said Wilson. In addition to personal satisfaction, she was learning something from her work - that is, how to better explain things to kids. Wasserman, who has two other community outreach art programs under her belt, noted that the kids "have such different perceptions of art." She added that while she loved working with them, when it came to the art projects they suggested, "You never know how they're going to react."
Just as these programs have existed in the past, there will be another like this one next year. But just as surely, these classes are "definitely going to be affected [by the budget cuts]; how much we don't know," said Burness. Regardless of possible financial limitations in the future, some things won't change. As Sherri Wasserman said, when it comes to kids, "all they care about is having a crayon in their hand."
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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