EPISODE 02: THE STORY OF

Crystal Bridges

with Nile Blunt

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Our museum welcomes all. That’s our mission: to welcome all.

Jamie Hipp

Rich learning opportunities abound outside of school spaces. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this episode, we’ll be talking all things museum, education and arts integration with doctor Nile Blunt, head of school programs at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. Before arriving at Crystal Bridges in July of 2018 Doctor Blunt taught at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, both in the classroom and the galleries of the Addison Gallery of American Art. You may have seen Dr. Blunt featured in an education commission of the States Ed Note publication in November 2019. Dr. Blunt I recently read that Crystal Bridges draws approximately half a 1,000,000 visitors per year, and at first I thought this had to be a typo, but it checked out. So how many students and teachers do you work with on a daily basis or a weekly basis at Crystal Bridges and in what capacity?

Nile Blunt

We see, um, hundreds of students a week and, um, and their teachers, uh, and in the capacity of planning and executing tours mostly, but also having other kinds of events. But the majority comes from our tour program, a school visits program. So are just to give you an example. Our busiest day ever was this year. It was May 10th and we saw 745 students in one day. 

Jamie Hipp

That is really incredible. 745 in just one single day in May?

Nile Blunt

But, uh, we don’t we don’t see that many every day. Of course, that was a record, but we do see hundreds of students a week,

Jamie Hipp

Just elementary, just middle, mostly high school and just from Arkansas in the surrounding area.

Nile Blunt

They are K through 12 and they come from mostly Arkansas but also, uh, Oklahoma and as far away as Louisiana and, uh, artist as a big state. So they’re coming from Little Rock, which is three and 1/2 hours away, places like the Delta, which is about five hours away. So they’re coming from far and wide, and they’re able to do that because we provide transportation reimbursements for transportation to the museum for field trips. So, thanks to the generosity of the patent, Willard Walker fabrications were able to pay for transportation reimbursements, paper substitute teachers for the classroom. They need them and all for the students that free and healthy lunch when they arrive at the museum. We also don’t charge for the actual visit to the museum. We don’t make it. You don’t have any charges for that.

Jamie Hipp

I am all about equity and access, as I know many of our listeners are, and that is just fantastic. What you guys were able to provide. It’s so much more than just a visit to the museum. It sounds like the whole experience that is not soon forgotten by students with the healthy snack and the transportation, of course, to and from just fascinated by that. So obviously, Crystal Bridges has a colossal collection of visual art. In what ways do you in the education staff at the museum connect the visual arts collection to the academic curriculum like social studies, science, math and English language arts?

Nile Blunt

We do have a number of ways we, uh, first of all when we create our tours and we have ah, large variety of tours that are available to look at our website, but we create our tours will always have curriculum standards in mind. So we’re always thinking about a variety of tours that touch on things like art, math, our science, social studies, literature and language arts and a variety of other subjects. So we’re thinking we have those subjects of mind. We were creating tours, and I’m proud to say we offer a number of custom to rivers where if a teacher doesn’t see something that works exactly for what he or she needs for their classroom, we can work together with that teacher to come up with something that is custom and unique for that class. 

Jamie Hipp

That is great. And can you give us some examples of lessons related to this arts? Integrated museum Learning?

Nile Blunt

Sure, we had, for instance, last year one of our first really successful custom tours ah, high school class was reading Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man and the teacher wanted a tour that would touch on the themes of that novel with works of art in the collection. So the teacher works very closely with one of our museum educator’s, and they came up with a plan and a tour, a two-part towards, and they came on two different days, and they saw works of art that spoke to some of the major themes in the novel and that enhanced both our understanding of the works of art but also the classes. Understanding of the novel, if it was, complemented the experience greatly by incorporating the arts to that learning process right

Jamie Hipp

Right and once teachers get back to their classrooms and follow up with the museum based Arts integrated Learning in their classroom space, how would you suggest that they do that?  

Nile Blunt

Well, we often offer pre and post visit materials that are available on our website. So and maybe also send out two teachers who are booking tours. And so we we work with the Teacher Advisory Council and work with our educators to come up with a plan for teachers to continue the conversations about the works of art and about the themes that they’ve discovered that the students have discovered on the tour. So we got guide that with prion pre and post visit materials, and we also suggest that they think about bringing the works or into the classroom and revisiting the works of art and having continuing those conversations, they began to museum during the hour long tour so they can have a deeper dive in the classroom with the works of art and with the curriculum or study.

Jamie Hipp

It sounds like Crystal Bridges has thought of everything. So for our listeners who may not have taken a group of learners to a museum before, what are some important museum etiquette points to keep in mind?

Nile Blunt

I think first and foremost before we get to the rules about how to behave in a museum, uh, I know that in particular, our museum welcomes all that’s our mission toe welcome all. So we there there isn’t. This should keep in mind that there isn’t a certain type of student that’s best suited for the museum. We welcome all students. We, including students, special needs. And so we welcome all students to come and to experience museum and be encouraged. Both the students and the teachers have an open mind to be ready to experience new ideas, new cultures, new forms of artworks, new forms of art and to really be prepared to think broadly and to speak up when they’re introduced to two works of art for the first time. So that’s the first day. And then, of course, there things like Don’t touch the art, which is an obvious one, Um, but really looking closely is another one being prepared to look closely at the art. It really examine it, Um, see how it relates their own life experiences. Doing things like this would really enhance their experience. So keeping in mind to be open minded and to do close looking, and we use the biological model for teaching, which means that it’s a dialogue that’s led by the students, so we don’t our museum educators don’t lecture at all. They ask questions of the students and encourages students ask questions in a situation where the conversation around the work of art is entirely led by the students and what their interests are in the work of art, where their perspectives air coming from. And that kind of thing could be highly encourage them t to speak up and to be as honest and open as possible. She had the best experience possible

Jamie Hipp

And in your opinion, should classroom teachers that are attending with their students. Should those teachers be hands on or hands off in the museum education space.

Nile Blunt

That’s a good question. That depends. I think that sometimes we have an issue of teacher take over, which means that we have the highly trained educator who was leading it was helping facility the tour that’s being led by students. And we have teachers who often want to insert ideas and their own comments, which sometimes makes the students feel like they should clam up, which really isn’t brave. I think that the ideal situation is the teacher having a large role in planning of the tour with the museum educator. It’s saying exactly what they want, exactly what they need and then letting and then taking us that back in the museum of letting the student shine on, letting the educators do their work. So it’s best if if they have a, they have a lot to say before the tour and then maybe take a step back and let the and let the tour experience play out in a way that allows the students really take the main stage.

Jamie Hipp

And in addition to school visits, I know that you also run the school partnership programs, the teacher professional development programs as well as online learning initiatives. And in your spare time, you oversee the wind gate educational excellence through the arts endowed fund. Can you tell us more about those initiatives?

Nile Blunt

Sure. So our school partnership program, which is called Crystal Bridges in the classroom, is a really wonderful program. That place is teaching artists who are contracting by crystal bridges into classrooms across the states and in Missouri. And they, the teaching artists, are in the classrooms for a full week, UM, one hour a day with class, period a day for that week, teaching arch immigration. So they are teaching the curriculum that was already slated to be taught by the teacher. But they’re teaching it through works of art and the Crystal Bridges collection, which is really wonderful. And then they do that for four weeks. They offer teacher professional development sessions for the teachers at the school and then shortly thereafter. After that residency, they bring the students to the museum for guided tour that is related to what they were studying. So, for instance, if a classroom is if the glass is studying Native American cultures, we would. The teaching artist would bring in works of art by a Native American indigenous artists and talk about the experience, the Native American experience and Native American cultures and societies through those works of art. And then when they came to the museum, they would see those. If there are, hopefully they’ll be able to steal those works of art in the museum and have a a deep dive into talking about that with the museum educator’s. So that’s that’s really our partnership program we have right now 10 schools in Little Rock, which we’re very proud of, and one school of Missouri

Jamie Hipp

Fantastic. And I know our listeners can’t wait to visit. But for those listeners who are maybe out of your region, um, how can we learn more about crystal bridges and opportunities for students and four teachers own professional learning?

Nile Blunt

Well, we have a really robust um, did your professional development program that I first recommend going to our website to learn about all of our programming, Let me offer. But for educators were interested in experiencing crystal bridges are learning more about crystal bridges. We offer to summer teaching institutes that have a national reach, their highly competitive, because they’re all expenses paid for week it crystal bridges, learning how to teach from works of art, Um, and learning how to incorporate works of art into the classroom. And it’s not just our teachers, teachers from across the curriculum across the board and we those happened in July. We opened the applications for those typically in February or March and be advertised in various places where teachers, uh, are looking for opportunities. And, um, we also have the application on our website, and so that’s a good place for teachers who want to know more about crystal bridges. I want to learn about how to teach for works of art and how to use our phenomenal collection to do that. That’s a great opportunity for them to to actually have an experience. So that’s one way and again going to the website and looking at what we’re doing is another on contacting me directly or a member of my staff directly is another way. We’re always very eager to explain what we do to encourage people to come, and if they have the ability to make it work with Arkansas, we encourage them to do that and to comfort crystal bridges and experience it for themselves.

Jamie Hipp

Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, and I’ve been your host. Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jamie Patterson.

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Crystal Bridges