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Art Exhibit Spotlights Power of School-Museum Partnerships

Art fans visiting the nation's capital have some impressive options to get a little culture. The National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection, to name a few. For the next month or so, there's another competitor offering a dose of the visual arts, and it's an unlikely suspect: the U.S. Department of Education.

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A new exhibition at the department's headquarters building in downtown Washington is displaying works by K-12 students from around the country, from paintings and drawings to photography and mixed-media projects. The 45 artworks are student creations born out of partnerships between art museums and nearby schools. Participating museums include the Dallas Museum of Art, the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Phillips Collection.

"Art is a powerful tool for education, and museums provide invaluable access to arts education for students in this country," said Chris Anagnos, the executive director of the Association of American Art Museum Directors, in a press release about the effort. "More than just field trips, these museum-school partnerships result in more innovative programs than ever before, with a focus on long-term community engagement with students and teachers alike."

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I chatted the other day with Suzanne Wright, the director of education at the Phillips Collection, about the exhibition and the work her museum is doing with two public schools in Washington.

"Each museum is really demonstrating how they engage their communities, and in particular, their museum-school partnerships," she said. "One thing that is exciting about the exhibition is that it represents so many different types of museums and projects."

The Phillips Collection works with two local elementary schools serving large concentrations of low-income families. As part of the partnership, museum staff come to the schools almost every week, she said, and students get repeated opportunities to visit the art gallery, which houses famous works from the French impressionists to American modernists. A key focus, Wright said, is to provide classroom teachers with help in integrating the arts across the curriculum.

"The goal is for the teachers to feel comfortable doing this on their own," she said.

"Our agenda is really that arts integration in particular is a way to engage students ... in a more meaningful way, that it deepens personalized learning and links to multiple learning styles and '21st century' skills," she said.

The new exhibition at the Education Department includes three artworks (featured in this blog post) from the Phillips partnership, including a three-dimensional montage on the theme of transportation created by a group of students with disabilities.

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These school-museum partnerships call to mind a story I wrote last year about the work many science centers and museums are doing in collaboration with local schools. That article was part of a broader special report, Learning Science Outside the Classroom. In fact, I had the chance to visit Explora, a science center in Albuquerque, N.M.,that has been working with that city's public school district for many years.

The exhibition at the Education Department, which began May 11, runs through June 22.

UPDATE (5/16/12): The exhibit is located in the Department of Education building at 400 Maryland Ave. S.W., in Washington, DC. To visit the exhibit Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., contact Nicole Carinci at nicole.carinci@ed.gov or Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov.

Art images: All three artworks featured in this blog post, supplied by the Phillips Collection, are on display at the U.S. Department of Education. The unnamed piece at top was created by students at Tyler Elementary School in the District of Columbia. The second, titled "Ben's Chili Bowl," and the third, "The Big Chair," were created by students at Takoma Education Campus in the District of Columbia.

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