UCLA Community School Students Immersed in Art Environment with Hammer Museum’s “Classroom-in-Residence” Program

Sixth graders were immersed in the Hammer's environment to learn links between art and academic subjects, careers in the museum world.

Sixth graders from UCLA Community School experienced an in-depth look at the museum world during the second year of the “Classroom-in-Residence” at the Hammer Museum (CIR@H), March 3-14.Each weeklong session provided an intimate view of the day-to-day operations of an art museum, as well as lessons on how to look at art and how to integrate arts education with the inquiry demanded of all academic subjects. In addition, the students learned about a variety of curatorial and other museum professions that create, preserve, and present the exhibits at one of Los Angeles’ premier art institutions.

Established last year by the Visual and Performing Arts Education Program (VAPAE) in the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture (UCLA Arts), the CIR@H project was initiated by Barbara Drucker, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of Arts Education at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, and developed in collaboration with Sue Bell Yank, assistant director of Academic Programs at the Hammer, and teachers and staff at UCLA Community School. This initial collaboration was made possible by the Max H. Gluck Foundation, the UCLA Dream Fund, and the UC Institute for Research in the Arts, which funded the creation of a documentary on the inaugural CIR@H project last year. Expenses included ten days of round-trip bus transportation for UCLA Community School students to the Hammer Museum and the hiring of translators to ensure that the experience was accessible to all participants.

“The existence of this groundbreaking program created at UCLA, in collaboration with the Hammer Museum, models for the pupils the importance of the arts in our culture, and introduces them to pathways for participation within the diverse realms of the university, the art museum and the art world,” says Drucker.

Sarah Stifler, Director of Communications for the Hammer Museum, welcomed  6th graders from UCLA Community School to second annual "Classroom-in-Residence" project at the Hammer Museum in March. Photo by Sarah Bang
Sarah Stifler, Director of Communications for the Hammer Museum, welcomed 6th graders from UCLA Community School to second annual “Classroom-in-Residence” project at the Hammer Museum in March. Photo by Sarah Bang

The CIR@H project is based upon the Open Minds Program, an arts education approach founded in Canada by Dr. Gillian Kydd, who was a presenter at last year’s Classroom-in-Residence. The Open Minds model trains teachers to take their students out of the classroom and into the city for a week of immersive learning in another stimulating environment such as museums, zoos, city halls, and historic sites.

UCLA Community School teachers Janet Lee-Ortiz and Michael Nemiroff participated as facilitators for the visual art workshops, which Drucker says is unique to the UCLA version of the Canadian model.

“Our UCLA Community School teachers were not deeply trained in arts integration, arts practice or contemporary art history,” says Drucker,“but they have enthusiastically and intensely participated in both implementations of CIR@H. And, by repeating this experience at the Hammer, with a similar support group, they were more comfortable with the various strategies this time around, and more able to confidently implement and extend some of the methods they were introduced to last year. Repeating the experience really solidified and embedded the new methods and approaches they were exposed to, and added to the wonderful range of strengths and skills that the teachers already had. So, the professional development component for the teachers became stronger and more important to all of us this second time around.”

Lee-Ortiz, who teaches sixth-grade math and science says that the CIR@H experience, “allows us to appreciate art for its possibilities in interdisciplinary lesson planning.” She says that techniques like Visual Thinking Strategies have provided her with a different perspective on art that she shares with her students and now utilizes herself when looking at art.

“I now know how to spend time with art and engage with it in ways that I didn’t know,” says Lee-Ortiz. “Students now realize that if they look at a piece of art and have conversations with themselves about what they notice, see, think, feel, and wonder, they actually know a lot. They learn to trust themselves; they are artists.”

Sarah Bang, associate director of Bridging and Engagement for UCLA Community School and UCLA Center X, says that the ability to illustrate links between the arts and other academic subjects is an invaluable experience for students.

“This collaboration between the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture, the Hammer Museum, and UCLA Community School is a unique opportunity to integrate arts into content,” she says. “The best part of this experience for me is to see students completely engrossed in what they think is “just” an art project and then to see their faces when I ask them how they liked the math lesson.  This is the best way to show students that what they are learning in school, such as math, science, writing, and social studies, can have a real world application and can be tied into history as well as what they will encounter in the future.”

According to Drucker, the multi-sensory and multidisciplinary aspect of contemporary arts practice also informed the development of CIR@H curriculum, which included a noontime dance/movement/mindfulness component, led by Lindsay Lindberg, arts education program coordinator for UCLA Arts and Sarah Wilbur, a Ph.D. candidate in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. Lindberg says that the movement component of CIR@H emphasized “the development of verbal and physical observation in response to the environments within the Hammer Museum, the UCLA Sculpture Garden, and the students’ own classroom community” through activities that included movement responses to the artworks viewed and to meeting with museum professionals at the Hammer, as well as observational drawing exercises.

“Through developmental movement games and activities, students heightened their perception and awareness of personal, interpersonal, and physical spaces— with the goal being to instill a sense of self, group, and social awareness in the world through movement,” Lindberg says. “The time spent in the UCLA Sculpture Garden on campus underscored [CIR@H’s) connection to UCLA and the Visual and Performing Arts Education Program, and gave students an opportunity to apply their experiences in the Hammer’s Education Lab and Galleries in a new setting.”

 Kimberleigh Aarn, arts education specialist for the Hammer Museum, helped students in a poetry workshop explore a mural by Rikrit Tiravanija depicting the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Photo by Theresa Sotto

Kimberleigh Aarn, arts education specialist for the Hammer Museum, helped students in a poetry workshop explore a mural by Rikrit  Tiravanija depicting the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Photo by Theresa Sotto

Written reflections rounded out the CIR@H experience for UCLA Community School students, who wrote poetry inspired by a mural by Rikrit Tiravanija depicting the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Theresa Sotto, assistant director of academic programs for the Hammer Museum, wrote in the museum’s blog about the impact that immersing themselves in an artwork had on the young poets.

“As I read through poem after poem, I was impressed at students’ ability to capture the nuanced emotions that those present during this turbulent event must have felt,” wrote Sotto. “Could students have written such powerful poems in the traditional classroom? With incredible teachers like Janet Lee-Ortiz and Mike Nemiroff, probably. But with time away from their normal routine in a stimulating place like the Hammer Museum, when given the time to reflect and discover their own thoughts about art, I suspect it would have taken the students a few more drafts to get there.

“This is one of the many reasons I love when art is used to teach multiple subjects—art offers an immediate way in,” states Sotto in her blog post. “Judging by this year’s journal reflections, stories, poems, and astute observations about works of art, it’s clear that we’ve converted many more 6th graders into art lovers.”

“The CIR@H curriculum emphasis on creative process and arts integration demonstrates the intertwined nature of the arts with all other aspects of life and intellectual enquiry for the students, and will hopefully impact the way they view art and creative activity throughout their lives” says Drucker.

“The lessons that the students gained from this week-long collaboration goes beyond just academics and the classroom,” says Bang. “I hope the most important lesson that students gain is that there are partners from the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture, The Hammer Museum, and the UCLA Community School who are here to advocate for them.  We want our students to experience meaningful relationships with adults who can encourage them and show them that their dreams are important and that they don’t have to stop dreaming after CIR@H is over.”

To view the VAPAE documentary on the 2013 “Classroom-in-Residence” at the Hammer Museum, click here.


Above: Sixth graders from UCLA Community School spent a week in the Hammer Museum, discovering the links between art and their academic subjects. Photo by Sarah Bang