Project Look Provides Critical Arts Education
Program Still Going Strong After More Than Three Decades
More than three decades after its inception, the Art Center’s Project Look school tour program is still enriching classroom art curriculum, fostering critical thinking, and exposing children to fine art that they may not otherwise have.
“I don’t think the kids I teach would have any other opportunity to experience art if it wasn’t for Project Look,” says Marissa Bonek, a first grade teacher at Costaño Elementary School in the Ravenswood School District. “I like seeing them interact with the art and the docents that conduct the tours, actively ask questions, and watching their imaginations come alive.”
Project Look provides an education and memorable art experience to thousands of students in the Palo Alto area each year. Groups visit the gallery for an interactive tour and the art studio for a related hands-on activity. The field trip focuses on seeing and making activities, and offers students and teachers a museum experience led by professional artist educators.
“I think it’s cool,” says Janelle, a first grader at Costaño. “You get to make a project and look at art. It makes me happy, and I think it’s the best thing in the world.”
Marissa adds, “The students are encouraged to raise their hands and answer questions about the art they’re looking at. The tour engages the students, and lets them speak their minds.”
In 2019, the Art Center had 7,000 students experience Project Look from 41 different schools. Participants in the program came from Bay Area cities such as Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Fremont, Campbell, Saratoga, Belmont, Atherton, Sunnyvale, Los Gator, Santa Clara, San Carlos, Portola Valley and Half Moon Bay.
Art Center Director Karen Kienzle says that she went through the Project Look program when she was in second grade, in conjunction with a Picasso ceramics exhibition.
“As a recipient of Project Look myself [at Keys School], I’ve had first-hand experience of the benefits of the program to create opportunities for seeing and making art,” she says. “Project Look is one of the Art Center’s oldest, most impactful, and beloved programs.”
Angela Karamian, Art Center School and Teacher Program Manager, says, “I think Project Look is so valuable because it fully supports teachers and their classrooms. The teachers who participate have the opportunity to collaborate with their students in a different, creative environment.”
Project Look supports the development of skills outlined in several of the Common Core State Standards. Educators also engage students in group discussion and guide them to analyze and “read” visual artworks, reinterpreting the Anchor Standards in Reading that emphasize understanding literature and texts. Each exhibition also provides curriculum connections to topics ranging from arts, science, history, mathematics, and English language arts.
Jia Zhu, a recent Project Look docent, says that the program provides an enriching experience for the children.
“The open-ended questions we ask the students give them a good opportunity to learn and express themselves,” she says. “And it’s a challenge for docents too—we have to find certain questions to engage with them.”
Jia says that the artmaking activities are well-designed to make use of the artwork in the exhibit, and gives the students a chance to work with different themes and materials. “The Encounters exhibition was great for kids because they liked the animals,” she adds.
The Project Look program is extremely popular among teachers who have already participated, says Angela. The Art Center’s next exhibition in late January 2020, Rooted: Trees in Contemporary Art, is already drawing many sign-ups from teachers who want to enroll in the school tours program, but a few dates are still available.
Docent training takes place in January and September of each year.
“We really look at the feedback we get from the teacher surveys,” she adds. “We get high marks for the program, like a 98 percent approval rating, but we want to look at that remaining 2 percent and do even better.”
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Last Updated: January 2, 2020