This past March, students and teachers from three El Paso elementary schools had the unique opportunity to interact with Sebastián, a world-renowned Mexican sculptor. The experience was made possible due to a collaboration between the El Paso Community Foundation, the El Paso Museum of Art and Philosophical Systems Institute.
In 2011, the Community Foundation established The Classroom Fund to provide resources directly to teachers and classrooms at the front lines of education. Since its inception, the fund has given out more than $500,000 in resources to classroom teachers. This year, the Foundation is partnering with the El Paso Independent School District and Philosophical Systems Institute to present a pilot program called Active Learning Through the Fine Arts. Imagine a classroom filled every day with music, dance and visual art. Imagine children having the opportunity to work with professional artists—learning through creative exploration. This is the world the El Paso Community Foundation and its partners s hoping to build.
Students at three elementary schools —Burnet, Coldwell and Hillside—have daily experiences with the arts and arts integrated lessons in math, science, language and other subjects. “Research consistently demonstrates that regular participation in fine arts strengthens academic and social development, increases test scores, and raises graduation rates,” said Eric Pearson, President of the El Paso Community Foundation. “We want to make sure all students in El Paso have access to the arts.” The program will expand to three new schools next year and the long-term goal is to reach out to other districts.
When the El Paso Museum of Art wanted to have a teacher fellowship program in conjunction with their current exhibition KNOT: The Art of Sebastián, partnering with the Fine Arts Initiative program seemed like a perfect match.
On the exhibition’s opening weekend, teachers participated in a workshop with Sebastián, and 176 first through fifth grade students from the pilot schools took a field trip to the museum to explore Sebastian’s work through a series of hands-on activities. “The students’ responses were amazing,” said Stephanie Otero, project director with the El Paso Community Foundation. “His work is not only accessible to children, it speaks to them.”
Following the visit to the museum, teachers and students continued to explore the mathematics and construction of Sebastián’s sculptures through activities at their schools. The students studied and experimented with 2D and 3D surfaces through storytelling and physical models. The end result? An exhibition by the students in response to Sebastián’s work—attended by the artist himself. The exhibition, A Conversation Among Artists, will open May 21 at The El Paso Museum of Art. “The students cannot wait to see their art in a real museum,” Otero said.