Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh





Back Issues 


                                                                                                                      Beyond the Classroom

Two outreach programs venture beyond traditional settings to engage people of all ages and abilities in art and natural history.

Most days during the school year, the halls of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh ring with the sounds of children on field trips.  As many as 6,500 schoolchildren visit the Oakland museums and the Science Center on a busy school day.  However, thousands more children—and adults—are reached through off-site programs hosted by the museums.  “We are proud that our outreach programs have achieved a high level of integration into many communities,” says Carnegie Museums’ president Ellsworth Brown.  “The programs reach a very diverse range of people in a variety of community settings.”  Two of these programs are described below.


[PHOTO; CAPTION—Artist-educator (Jenni Stephens [or] Olivia Kissel) guides children from St. Stephen School in Hazelwood in an art project as part of Stories in Art.]


Stories in Art

For most children, visiting an art museum can be intimidating.  What should they make of all the objects in so many different styles, sizes, shapes, and colors?  For many parents, the visit can be just as—if not more—intimidating as they contemplate how they can they help their children understand and appreciate the works of art.

In the past decade, Carnegie Museum of Art has developed several child-friendly programs to make the museum a more welcoming place for families.  One of these programs is Stories in Art, a collaborative effort between the museum and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh that is fully funded by outside sources.

In 18 branch libraries and some schools, about 3,000 children a year are introduced to art and literature through an innovative combination of storytelling, observation and discussion, and art projects. 

At a recent program for 15 third and fourth graders at St. Stephen School in Hazelwood, the theme is “fruit.”  Carnegie Museum of Art artist-educator Jenni Stephens reads Anansi and the Talking Melon, all about a little spider who fools other animals into believing that a melon can speak.

Then, artist-educator Olivia Kissel shows the children a slide of a work of art from the museum’s collection, Mary Cassatt’s impressionistic 1891 oil painting titled Young Women Picking Fruit, and asks them to describe what they saw.  Nearly every hand shoots up.  “That one lady looks like she’s thinking hard about something,” says Manny.  “They look like they’re from a real, real long time ago.  They’re dressed like my great-grandmother,” comments Reggie.  Francesca thinks that the artist probably painted outdoors.

Now it’s time for the children to become the artists.  Jenni and Olivia guide them in making their own impressionistic pictures of fruit by tearing and overlaying different colored pieces of tissue paper.  No scissors, and no rules about the colors and shapes of fruits.

“This program makes the children really look at works of art and think like artists,” says the fourth-graders’ teacher, Paula Heberling.  “They learn the vocabulary of art and they’re more aware of the different styles of art and the different types of media an artist can use.”  Adds her colleague, third-grade teacher Nancy Hurey, “We don’t have tons of funds for materials.  This program adds variety to our curriculum.”

After five or six sessions, when the children have become familiar with the names and works of major artists and have gained confidence in their own ability to create art, they and their families receive free transportation and admission for a visit to the Museum of Art. “The children get so excited when they see the actual works of art,” says Jenni.  “You hear them shout, ‘I know that picture!”  At the end of their visit, they receive free passes for another visit.

Stories in Art, which was first offered at the libraries for walk-in visitors and then for grade-school groups, has become so popular in the seven years since its founding that recently it has begun to branch out to age groups other than adolescents.  The program is now presented to pre-school children at the Mt. Washington library branch and teen parents enrolled in a high-school equivalency degree program at Hill House in the Hill District.

Stories in Art has proven to be one of the museum’s most successful recent initiatives,” says Richard Armstrong, the Henry J. Heinz II director of the Museum of Art.  Reading and looking at art are among life’s greatest pleasures, and we are very pleased to help introduce such joy to children.”

The ultimate goal of Stories in Art, of course, is to encourage children to become lifelong visitors to the museums and library.  Jenni Stephens believes it’s working.  “Our kids are very loyal,” she says.




Museum on the Move

Because of medical limitations, some children are not able to experience the museums through field trips and school or library programs.  For children who have special needs, Carnegie Museum of Natural History offers Museum on the Move.

            Developed in 1982 by Diane Grzybek, now interim chair of the Museum of Natural History’s Division of Education, Museum on the Move has reached more than 200,000 children in the past 20 years. 

In addition, the initiative expanded in 1997 to reach older adults at assisted living facilities, personal care homes, and adult day care in partnership with Carnegie Science Center, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and Frick Art and Historical Center.  All told, last year about 10,000 children and adults participated in Museum on the Move presentations at more than 130 sites in five counties. 

Museum on the Move is funded by numerous foundations, businesses, groups, and individuals and is staffed by a team of 53 volunteers.  Some volunteers are trained as presenters in the program’s 13 natural history and anthropology topics, and others work behind the scenes, sewing crafts for hands-on projects.

            Presenters use their training, hand-made crafts, and the Natural History museum’s own collection of artifacts to engage children in what Museum on the Move program assistant Lenore Adler calls “high-touch, low-tech” activities.  The activities are designed to appeal to the senses of children and older adults whose physical, mental, or emotional disabilities prevent them from enjoying conventional exhibits or lectures. 

Activities range from digging out fossils from plaster and sand mounds to playing an Inuit game called ajagak to handling an elephant’s toenail, a giraffe’s bone, or a leopard’s skin.

            On a recent Wednesday morning at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, Museum on the Move volunteers fan out through the short-term and long-term stay units. 

            Presenters Jack Geltz and Shirley Hanlon help10-year-old Jenessa, whose conductive hearing loss has led to yet another hospital stay, decorate a bunny hand puppet.  Jenessa shies away from touching the real rabbit fur Jack offers her.  “I wish she’d smile some,” says her mother, Tracy.  But, Tracy reasons, at least Janessa is here in the playroom, engaged in a stimulating activity and learning something new, instead of whiling away the endless hours watching TV in her hospital room.

            Downstairs, in the Oncology Unit’s playroom, presenter Carol Lerberg guides the children in creating tableaus that illustrate the life cycle of a Monarch butterfly.  They use grains of rice for the eggs, clay for the chrysalis, and pom-poms for the caterpillar.  Six-year-old Dakota, diagnosed with leukemia just three weeks ago, is taking part in his first Museum on the Move presentation.  Shy at first, he soon joins in with the other children, long-term cancer patients who have seen this presentation on butterflies before.

            “They don’t seem to mind.  They really look forward to it,” observes Carol.  “We always try to add something new for them.”  Today, they’re also painting the wings on butterfly sun-catchers.

            Julianna Underwood, a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital, marvels at the dedication of Carol and the other volunteers.  “They come every single Wednesday, in the snow and rain.  It’s amazing.”

            Museum on the Move program assistant Lenore Adler believes she can explain the volunteers’ dedication.  “It’s good to see a child smile and be taken away from everything else going on around him,” she says.  “We may not see any reaction for the first 20 minutes of our presentation.  Then, we can see him switch gears, and join in.  It’s those small moments that count.  It’s seeing a deaf child form the word ‘frog.’  It’s hearing him make—for the first time—the sound ‘ribbit.’”




Back Issues 


Copyright (c) 2002 CARNEGIE magazine 
All rights reserved.