When is a painting not just a painting? The answer will be provided for educators attending the inaugural Summer Institute program being offered in a new partnership between Fairfield University and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.
The Summer Institute will present “Text and Context: Teaching and Learning through Contemporary Art and the Written Word” from June 27-30. The program will be held at the Aldrich’s Ridgefield location, with current exhibitions used to explain how K-12 educators can plumb today’s art as a foundation to challenge students into recognizing and embracing myriad disciplines that will enhance their educational development.
“This speaks to a larger initiative of building and developing 21st century skills for students,” explained Danielle Ogden, associate director of academic programs at the museum. “We see this at the forefront of a new educational model — one that no longer fits the narrow lens of 20 minutes of English, 20 minutes of social studies, 20 minutes of math.”
Instead, Ogden said, the Summer Institute is being designed to encourage educators to view the museum’s art through the spectrum of problem — solving and risk — taking. She defined this approach as a new effort to promote STEAM education — science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics — in a single and distinctive manner. Also the program is an exploration of the text-based work within the Aldrich’s galleries, which will be used as an arts education vehicle to develop observational skills and spark a new conversation concerning the roles of the creative artist and the audience.
But participants in the institute will not just be passive viewers. Jeff Hopkins, a teaching artist at the Aldrich and New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, will engage the educators in a hands-on mixed-media project that will evolve throughout the program. Three professors from Fairfield University — Sonya Huber and Carol Ann Davis of the English department and Jo Yarrington of the fine arts department — are also scheduled to discuss and debate contemporary arts education and its role in the wider learning process.
Philip Eliasoph, professor of visual and performing arts at Fairfield University, stated that the partnership between the school and the museum could be seen as evidence of a potential new normal in arts education.
“The order of the day is to build partnerships and alliances,” he said. “With funding being zeroed out at the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, it is like looking in a foxhole to your left and right and saying, ‘Okay, brother! Okay, sister! How do we enrich each other’s position?’ We can only be strengthened by a relationship with a good neighborhood partner, and using our resources in a shared manner is, to some degree, a no-brainer.”
However, Eliasoph said that expanding the institute into other seasons might be tricky, considering that the university’s faculty is engaged during the September-through-May academic year. But Ogden added that the two institutions are reviewing potential co-programming opportunities as well as a student intern program focused on museum curatorial studies.
“We look to Fairfield University as a particularly important partner for this type of relationship,” she said.