By Kim Kuta Dring, Director of Education, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Tess Chalifour-Drahman, Manager of Marketing and Communication, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
There is no question that arts are essential to a child’s education. As one student shared after a recent field trip to the museum, “Art is like life.” The benefits of arts and nature-based experience for kids are innumerable, and at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, we strive to make art and gardens accessible, fun, and engaging for everyone in the community. Education is central to the museum’s mission and is how we connect and serve the Northeast Florida community. We believe the experiences visitors have with the museum should be meaningful and promote creativity—something that all children can benefit from. These experiences are extremely vital to a child’s development and, according to an Americans for the Arts research study, promote a student’s motivation, attitude, problem solving, and attendance. Students who are involved in the arts are proven to be more likely succeed in school, stay in school, and carry the passion for the arts with them throughout their life.
The Cummer offers a variety of arts-based experiences for schools and community groups. We focus on observation and conversation while promoting cross-cultural understanding through interactive tours and activities led by our education team and volunteer docents. These experiences allow students to make connections with the art they see and foster intercultural comprehension through close-looking activities, thought-provoking questions, and lively conversation. Museum tours help to develop a student’s observation and critical thinking skills that spark their curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. Questions such as “Which work looks like an Oreo cookie?” or “What does it feel like to be under a 200-year-old live oak tree?” get the kids thinking outside the box while the art comes to life. It is not enough to just get children to the museum—we engage them in learning how to actually look at art, which will then lead them to appreciate it and eventually seek it out for themselves.
The Cummer seems to come to life in the hour before it opens to the public while small groups of students are led through the museum. They excitedly answer questions about the art they see: “What colors jump out at you?” “What do you think the weather was like when this was painted?” “What do you think happens in the next moment, after the artist puts down their paintbrush or sculpting tool?” Seeing the students light up as they think creatively about the piece and see more as they take the time to critically look at it is a joyful experience.
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the museum has funds available to provide free tours and transportation for Title I Beaches-area, Nassau, and Bradford County schools and Cummer in the Community partners. The Cummer in the Community initiative reaches out to students, teachers, and families in high-need communities by working with schools and community-based program providers. It is a transformative approach that reaches students and their families; connects people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities; and provides them with a place to come together and find commonality and comradery while exploring high-quality art and gardens.
Through Cummer in the Community, the museum has partnered with the Bold City Chapter of The Links, Inc. and Tiger Academy, an elementary school operated by First Coast YMCA. This partnership began in the 2020-21 academic year and was entirely virtual due to COVID-19. This year, however, we have been able to welcome the fifth-grade classrooms to the museum for our Black Artists of Florida tour as well as visit them at the school for panel discussions about careers in the arts with professionals from the museum and art entrepreneurs from greater Jacksonville. This partnership between the Cummer and the Bold City chapter helps The Links achieve their objective to increase and expand art experiences throughout Black communities and create and support art-related educational opportunities for minority youth. One goal of the Cummer is to provide multigenerational experiences for anyone in the community. By building relationships with and supporting the families of the Tiger Academy students, the Cummer can promote the healthy growth and development of the whole student—both while they are at school and when they are at home. This helps the museum become a recognized, comfortable, and well-used resource for both the students and their families.