UCLA-CS at the Hammer Museum: Students Get In-Depth Look at Art World

The Classroom-in-Residence project is a collaboration between UCLA's Visual and Performing Arts Education Program and the Hammer Museum.

While the typical school field trip to a museum consists of being told not to touch anything, looking at unfamiliar works of art, and a tedious bus ride to and from a venue, students from UCLA Community School (UCLA-CS) were given a very different experience as participants in the Classroom-in-Residence at the Hammer Museum (CIR@H) project this March. Each week-long session, which was attended by two different 6th grade classes from UCLA-CS, was more than a respite from the students’ daily routine, with not only the opportunity to view art but to create it. In addition, the students were given a first-hand view of the “real world” duties of the Hammer’s staff and learned about the museum and curatorial professions that create and preserve the exhibits at one of Los Angeles’ premier art institutions.

VAPAE minor Jarad Solomon, a volunteer art teacher at UCLA Community School, prepared his students to participate in the Classroom-in-Residence project at the Hammer Museum with lessons on modern art movements.

The CIR@H project was initiated by the Visual and Performing Arts Education Program (VAPAE) in 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 UCLA-CS teachers and staff.

This innovative collaboration between VAPAE, the Hammer Museum, and UCLA-CS was made possible by the Max H. Gluck Foundation, the UCLA Dream Fund, and the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, which is specifically funding a documentary on the CIR@H project that will be featured on the VAPAE and Hammer websites. Additional expenses included providing ten days of round-trip bus transportation for the UCLA-CS students, bringing in outside arts integration consultants, and hiring translators to ensure that the experience was accessible to all participants.

Art educator Dr. Gillian Kydd was among the support group who welcomed the UCLA-CS students to the Hammer Museum. She founded the Open Minds Program in Canada, upon which the CIR@H project is based. The Open Minds Program offers a model for teachers, encouraging them to take their students out of the classroom and into the city to learn about community resources such as zoos, city halls, and historic sites. To create meaningful and interdisciplinary lessons for their students that reinforce the vision and value of the selected venue, teachers participate in training sessions put on by venue staff during the fall quarter and winter quarter prior to the weeklong visit.
“We have so many interesting places in the community that are not used in depth by classroom teachers,” said Kydd, who is a consultant with the Calgary Board of Education. “Kids love it, they thrive in these environments, and the teacher is able to use the resource to be able to connect to their own curriculum. Whenever possible, they would fit in math and science; there’s a lot of writing here, a lot of language arts.”

Kydd said that the CIR@H project was the first time that the Open Minds concept was connected with a university. UCLA undergraduates in VAPAE’s Arts Education Teaching Sequence spent the fall quarter preparing UCLA-CS students for this immersive experience by providing 8 weeks of sequential standards-based art lessons in their classrooms. They also participated as onsite instructors and observed their students during the Hammer experiential sessions.

Jarad Solomon, a UCLA junior majoring in Design Media Arts, with a VAPAE minor, looks forward to a career teaching art and continues to volunteer at UCLA-CS each week. He says that this experience helped him to bond more deeply with his students and to examine his teaching techniques overall.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and teaching in general, about consistency and working every day to change your style,” said Solomon, who prepared his students for the Hammer residency with lessons on abstraction and other historical movements in modern art. “It’s a lot more effective than working just once a week with the students. I was just slipping a little bit of art into their Wednesdays, and they really liked it. … When I would show up, they would be finishing a health class, and as I left, they would be going into science or something else. I would always be in the middle of it.

Students created “dances” in the Billy Wilder Theatre based on artwork they had viewed and the physical movements of exhibit preparators at work.

“But when they were at the Hammer, they were constantly in the moment. It really got under their skin in a way that was much more permanent than anything I accomplished over months of working with them in the class.”

Lindsay Lindberg, VAPAE Program Assistant, graduated in 2010 from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures (WAC/D) program with an emphasis in dance and earned her master’s degree in dance education from New York University. She collaborated with Sarah Wilbur, a current MFA student in the Department of WAC/D to lead the “Movement and Mindfulness” component of the CIR@H program in the museum’s Billy Wilder Theatre, choreographing dance movements with the UCLA-CS students. The “dances” created were based on the artworks the students had viewed and activities such as meeting with museum professionals at the Hammer.

“We focused on taking gestures from everyday movements and elaborating on them,” she said, “finding new ways to interact with the space of the Hammer, and exploring how students’ relationship to space and community can affect their academic work and their artistic skills. They left with a kinesthetic experience that they could remember not only when they look at their journals and notebooks, but experience in their bodies also.”

Gretchen Gundlach, who will graduate this year from UCLA with her bachelor’s degree in art and a VAPAE minor, photographed the CIR@H sessions for the program’s upcoming documentary. She has also worked as a VAPAE student teacher at UCLA-CS. She said that after witnessing the students’ initial amazement at the Hammer’s art-filled environment, she was impressed with how they advanced to the next level of insight and inquiry about the museum as a whole.

“When the kids arrived at the Hammer, they were immediately immersed in art,” Gundlach said. “The first couple of days, they were saying, ‘There’s art everywhere!’ and really looking at it. But eventually the kids reached the point where they began to think about all the other aspects of how a museum works. It was interesting to see that they had gone from thinking and talking about art in the classroom to looking at the bigger picture of not just art and making art, but the whole institution of art and the museum.”

Barbara Drucker, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and Director of the Arts Education Program, said that she was impressed by the thoroughness and strength of the CIR@H curriculum, which was developed by the VAPAE undergraduates. Also instrumental in creating the curriculum were UCLA-CS teachers Janet Lee-Ortiz and Michael Nemiroff, Yank, and Faith Childs-Davis, an arts integration specialist and Ed.D. student in the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.

UCLA-CS 6th grader Simone Whitfield and her mother Angela Whitfield, shared the Classroom-in-Residence experience at the Hammer Museum.

“What impressed me about the original Open Minds curriculum developed in Canada and modified for this program was that it emphasized observation, reflection and revision through a kind of ’slow learning,’” said Drucker. “The UCLA Community School students were kind of acting like artists; they had their notebooks, and they had their studio routine. They were interacting with artists of all types and with people who support the arts, in an arts-embedded experience. It was amazing for all involved to witness the transformation of these students over the course of their week-in-residence at the museum.”

“When you go to a museum, you look at a piece for maybe 45 seconds and then you move on,” said Lindberg. “Giving the students a full hour every day to pick a piece of art and really reflect on it, notice what they saw, and then write about it, made them think. I believe that will translate back to when they’re in their own classroom.”

UCLA-CS 6th grader Simone Whitfield likes to draw cartoons. Her mother, Angela Whitfield, who accompanied Simone to the Hammer, said that her daughter inherited her interest in art from her father and grandfather, who are both artists. Simone said that she learned that “you need to take time in looking at art and see more of it to really enjoy it.” She also linked the creation of art to her science and math learning.

“In math, you need a lot of strategy and drawing is a main strategy we kids use,” said Whitfield. “It helps by giving me pictures in my mind of how I would show my actual words.”

Kydd said that she hopes the CIR@H experience will encourage the UCLA-CS students “to become critical thinkers and problem solvers and to be able to look carefully.

“I think that’s become more crucial as technology becomes such an important part of their lives,” she said, “because technology is someone else’s view of the world. They need to make their own views, not to take everything off a screen as the truth.”

Yank said that the CIR@H model “really fits the Hammer ethos.”

“We’ve always thought about ourselves as kind of a laboratory for artists and for students and for new things to happen,” she said. “One thing that’s really stunning to me because I used to be a classroom teacher, is seeing a classroom teacher leading their own class in the museum, using the museum’s resources. It’s something you never see, but it seems like such an obvious thing.”

UCLA-CS students replicated a Claude Monet’s “View at Bordighera” by piecing together separate unique “tiles” of their own design with UCLA-CS teacher Janet Lee-Ortiz (pictured), VAPAE students and Hammer Museum staff.

Drucker said that the VAPAE program plans to follow-up and expand upon the CIR@H experience by continuing to work on arts based projects with the 6th grade cohort at UCLA-CS during the spring quarter. She says that she was deeply touched by the students’ perceptions when given this unique opportunity to fully experience all facets of the art world and the process of artmaking in such an intimate way.

“I was immediately amazed with the depth of their insight when given the chance to talk about art,” she said. “We initiated the visual thinking process (VTS) with them… how to understand and look at an image, open it up and peel back the layers of meaning. They were stringing really complicated sentences together that included very subtle ideas, insights and feelings about the artworks they were observing.”

Drucker believes that “every human being has the potential for depth of understanding and feeling when given the opportunity for expression. And in the CIR@H project, the students were given the chance to act and respond like artists in a very professional environment. We gave them a lot of support and they really responded; that was very moving to me and hopefully we made a positive impact in their lives.”

An artist and graphic designer, Solomon said that although he enjoys his own creative work, “It’s much more satisfying to spend time with kids and get to see your work affect them immediately.” He said that as a child growing up in San Francisco, visiting the De Young Museum of Art and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art had a great impact on him.

“I really admired Picasso,” said Solomon. “There was a big exhibition that changed my life in terms of how I treated the possibility of being ‘wrong’ in realism. Picasso used to say that he spent his entire life forgetting how to draw. I’m teaching the students so they don’t have to forget anything – hopefully, they can just start learning from the right spot.”

Sunshine Torres, one of Solomon’s 6th grade students at UCLA-CS, said that she learned how to draw facial features from him during her week at the Hammer, and shared another important lesson from her CIR@H experience.

“Now I realize that art doesn’t have to be really perfect,” said Torres. “If you want to draw, just draw.”

For a video on CIR@H, click here.


Above: Students in the Classroom-in-Residence project were taught to observe art closely, to reflect upon what they saw and create their own versions of it.