Teaching art to kids in a rural setting can be a challenge. Most small towns don't have art museums like big cities. And, it’s not easy to pile them on a bus and drive to Denver for a cultural experience. However, there’s a center on the Western Slope trying to make it easier for students to access art.
"We are going to look at some of these paintings and we are going to start developing characters, but we are going to do it by talking about what we see," Sharon Bailey says. "Let’s look at this painting here. Raise your hand and tell me what you see.”
Bailey is talking to 21 third graders from Paonia Elementary. The students are on a field trip.
They're here at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts. Bailey is their tour guide.
But she’s not marching them from one picture to another, she has them sit on the floor and talk about what they see in the paintings.
Bailey is trying to get the kids to think critically about the piece of art they're seeing.
"I ask them very simple questions like what to do you see here, what makes you say that, and what else can you tell me about it," she says.
She encourages the kids to observe the art and then comment on what they see.
"It’s so amazing to hear them actually think about what they're saying," Bailey says.
Unlike city kids, children in rural communities don't always have access to museums and other cultural institutions. And Bailey says cuts to art funding don’t help.
"When I was in school to be an art educator the one thing they harped on the most was you are basically fighting for your job because the first thing that goes is the art budget in a school," she says. "The Blue Sage [is] separate...from the school budget.
Third grade teacher Tammie Benson is glad she can bring her students here.
"We don't have too many opportunities where the kids can see artwork in museums... like in the big city so it’s very unique for our community," Benson says.
In addition to art-related field trips, the Blue Sage hosts musical and theatrical products. The center also offers after school art programs for kids.
Back To The Field Trip
After the students finish their tour of the gallery, they do an activity.
The kids are given pieces of paper that they fold into a book. They will write and illustrate a short story.
The goal of the activity is to get them to use critical thinking skills to guide their creative process.
Eight-year-old Tyler Jordan is writing a story called Guardian of the Galaxy.
Tyler says his book is inspired by the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's different.
"Yes I got the idea from it but with one man," he says. " And he protects every planet that he can and he wants to help everyone."
Tyler says he wants to be an artist when he grows up, but only in the daytime. He has another line of work in mind for the night.
"Probably a coal miner-ninja," he says. "Lots of things. I don’t know."
Benson is Tyler’s teacher.
"The Blue Sage, they do a really good job of teaching the children about artwork and the local artists and [how] we can interpret the artwork and how it relates to them and their lives," she says.
Bailey, the art tour guide, says the things kids say about the art surprise her. And they often pick up on things in the work that adults miss.
"What’s more exciting to me is watching the adults respond to the children," she says. "You can see the adults sitting in the back row, they're teachers or parents, listening to what the students are saying. And, then they're kind of cocking their heads to the side and going oh I didn't see that."