If you pose the question “what is art?” to a room full of kindergarteners, you will get all kinds of answers. As usually happens with kids, the first answer kind of sets the trend for the rest. So, if the first child says “art is when I play with play-doh,” you are bound to get at least four more answers pretty much like the first. Then, you will get a few who want to tell you about their dog, or their sister, or even what they had for lunch
But if you keep calling on them, you might get the kind of answer that art teachers really love, just as I got last week in my first volunteer gig with Art Goes to School. One round- faced five-year-old raised his hand and summed it all up in one sentence: “Everything is art!”
Art Goes to School (AGTS) might just be the coolest program that you don’t know about. The local chapter of this non-profit volunteer organization brings art history and appreciation to kids in the Pottstown School District every winter, and has been doing so for the last 20 years or so. Another chapter visits the Owen J. Roberts elementary schools. Started under the auspices of the Junior League in 1962, AGTS became an independent non-profit about 10 years ago and today has grown to include 52 groups in PA and NJ.
Basically, all AGTS volunteers work with the same portfolio, which changes from year to year. In the fall, chapters meet to discuss the works, this year ranging from the well known like Andy Warhol’s famous portrait of Marilyn Monroe to the obscure like The Poultry Market by Walter Henry Williams, and get familiar with all the works. Then, each volunteer gets to bring their own particular style to their presentation, which, for me meant asking the kids what they think art really is.
Once we waded through some silly answers and I heard what about half the class got for Christmas, we got down to the business of looking at some art and talking about what they liked and didn’t like. I, personally, loved having the little kids because there is something so unguarded about the way they approach art and they have no filter (for better or for worse) about sharing what they think. Because I have some idea of the average attention span of a kindergartner in the late afternoon of the first day back after winter break, I brought brand new crayons and asked them to draw something for me.
When they were done, we compared them to some of the prints I had picked to show the class. They giggled over Picasso’s Portrait of a Woman and again at Frida Kahlo’s prominent eyebrows in The Frame. But, eventually, we had a really great discussion about how not everyone sees things or will draw them in exactly the same way, and each kid left the room clutching their drawing and, I hope, knowing a little more about art.
The Pottstown Chapter of AGTS also encompasses the high school kids, with four students each year participating in the volunteer program as part of their senior project. These students have a chance to observe other volunteers when they present at Blessed Theresa of Calcutta (formerly St. Pete’s for any Pottstown expatriates). Then, once they have done their practice presentation for other Art Students at the high school, they can start logging the hours they need for their project.
The Art Goes to School program in Pottstown runs through the middle of February and volunteers will be visiting classes in all grades, 4K to 5th, at all five elementary schools. So, if you have a child in a Pottstown school, be sure to ask them what they thought of The Yellow Cow (by Franz Marc) or The Road Menders (by Van Gogh). Their answers just might surprise you.