Arts Education / Museums

Elementary Art at Princeton University: A lesson in arts engagement for youth


Anish Kapoor, Full Moon, 2014 – Stainless steel

The Princeton University Art Museum has many wonderful things to offer with a small but strong collection of art. The Museum houses over 92,000 works from regions that span the entire globe but most important in my estimation is the Museum’s Art Education Program. As an elementary art teacher I know that appreciation for the arts is best nurtured from a young age. Princeton’s program gives students from all backgrounds a chance  to experience world renowned works of art from a young age. Thanks to the active voice of Mott Elementary School art teacher Susan Kiley, Trenton School District has been in collaboration with Princeton’s Museum for several years now.  Kiley has given life to a robust art program that brings change and enlightenment to third graders at four different schools, including the one where I currently teach, Jefferson Elementary.

Every Wednesday, students are greeted by docents at Princeton  to discover new visual languages and cultural histories. The diversity of the collection is mind blowing as are the students reactions to that collection, so different from their own city landscape.


Ifs Divination Bag (ap ileke), 20th century African art – colored beads, cloth and leather

The museum rotates works on display in order to highlight different eras of art history. One recent exhibition called, Material Legacy: The Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection of Contemporary Art, showcased artists active over the past decade. It focuses on the artist’s diverse use of contemporary materials and practices. Both Nasher and Haemisegger were members of the class of 1976 at Princeton. Artists include Anish Kapoor, Sol LeWitt, Kara Walker and Kehinde Wiley. Throughout the exhibit you can observe a variety of visual aesthetics and cultural interests at play. It was incredible to see students embrace and respond to the wide-range of visual languages, themes and concerns that stem from current events. One of the pieces that received the the most attention from students was Full Moon by Anish Kapoor. Each of our third grade students had the opportunity to fully experience the work by standing at a distance in front of the piece alone. One student exclaimed that he felt trapped in space; another was struck completely speechless with a big smile on her face.


Student work – Objective: Still Life

Over the course of fifteen weeks students react to and investigate the art within the museum becoming more adept at explaining and comprehending the work. As they explore each exhibit their vocabularies expand through continued conversation with docents. Alongside this learning experience students also have the opportunity to create work of their own both at the museum with docents and later at school with their art teachers (like me!).

Through direct observation and the language of art students become better able to understand the stories of others and express their own stories. I am proud to be a part of this wonderful arts program and will never forget the memories created through this educational experience with the volunteer docents.

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Scroll for Zhang Datong, China 1100 – Ink on paper

Article by Contributor Jessica Padilla : Images from their website

Student artwork : Provided by Susan Kiley


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