In 2015, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Life Styles, a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for adults with disabilities, created a program for students enrolled in Launch, a Life Styles program designed for young adults with disabilities who are looking for a collegiate-style experience that might not otherwise be available to them. Launch works on a semester system and offers educational opportunities on a variety of topics, from job interview skills to nutrition to art.
The Crystal Bridges pilot is part of Launch’s Effective Communications course, which focuses on quotes by notable individuals. Students interpret the quotes, debate their meaning, and discuss how they may relate to the students’ personal lives. Launch instructors and museum educators collaborated to develop museum experiences that reinforce these classroom themes and discussions while integrating the arts. Effective Communications students visit Crystal Bridges three times during the semester for two-hour sessions with their class. Each session includes gallery and studio art experiences, facilitated by museum educators, that are based on quotes studied in class such as “Life is not about finding yourself. It is about creating yourself” (George Bernard Shaw) and “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years” (Abraham Lincoln).
Following a brief introduction in the classroom at Crystal Bridges, the group moves to the galleries for a rich thirty-minute discussion about how the selected quote and a work of art relate to one another. The discussion includes a number of open-ended prompts in an open and safe environment so participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas with the group, including how they interpret the artwork and how the quote may relate to the work of art. Following the gallery portion, the students move to the studio where everyone creates an original work of art based on the quote, discussion, and artwork explored.
Participants not only learn about art and art history, but also learn valuable life skills such as how to interact in various environments and how to communicate in a group setting. They are given program calendars and complimentary tickets to special exhibitions to encourage future participation at Museum events outside of the collaboration.
“I love everything I learned here,” said Launch student Katie Beth. “Because I love learning about the art history and the artists and it inspires me every day to learn about art. It inspires me to do art. I do a lot of artwork and I love art. Maybe one day my art will be in Crystal Bridges.”
Images of Launch program courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art