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"We wanted kids to come to the museum comfortable with being here and what you do here," she says. "Not only kids, but I suspect most adults don't necessarily go into museums with a kind of confidence about what to do and where to go." DeLoach has primary responsibility for The Art of Looking, and her self-satisfaction shows as she guides a visitor through the software.
"We're getting to the point where it's almost done, so now we're simply fine-tuning," she says while clicking on one of the icons, an action that fails to illicit a quick response. "Over the course of working on this for four years, I find I have a whole new set of skills," she says with a laugh.
The software finally begins to work, and Art Kid speaks up, inviting the viewer to select one of several options. "We designed this CD to give an overview of the first museum visit on the computer, so that it can actually happen in the classroom," DeLoach says. "The program is an introduction to looking, giving you the skills to successfully and competently navigate a museum."
In the works for four years, the museum's new interactive, multimedia computer program will be self-published and distributed within a month, if all goes well, to local classrooms. DMA educators are also shopping a commercial publisher so copies can be distributed nationwide. The Art of Looking began as works on paper -- units of study prepared for elementary and secondary teachers by the DMA's professional education staff. In one case, a unit on art called "American Landscapes" related works from the DMA's collection to art history, observation, analysis, and interpretation of art, art criticism, and a comprehensive series of creative thinking exercises and activities.
"One of the things our department believes very strongly in is the support not only of students, but of teachers," DeLoach says. "We work to help them feel confident in using the museum as an alternate classroom." Local teachers are trained by DMA staff to use the material in the classroom, with or without a field trip to the DMA to explore the actual art. The new CD is an adjunct to this larger program.
Walsh-Piper is careful to explain that using art as a teaching tool requires more understanding and investment in groundbreaking educational ideas, such as interdisciplinary studies that incorporate art throughout the curriculum.
"You start with very simple things like observing and describing, but you get to much more complicated thought processes like inferring and deciding and interpreting when children look at art," she says. "Even young children can do this on a certain level."
Walsh-Piper believes the DMA's museum educators are bound by a professional and community commitment to support public and private schools whenever possible. The idea is to help them use art as "an integral part of learning," not just as an illustration or as a supplement. "This philosophy allows students to see the connections between life and art," she insists. "Also, more than just facts, it teaches the whole child. It teaches a child the integration of what you learn with your life, which is very important."