If you had walked into the Walker Art Lab on the morning of the 11th of July, you would have been greeted by the sight of numerous ladies huddled over their laptops. No, they were not journalists. Neither were they extremely fashionable computer game beta-testers. They were, in fact, participants of the exciting two-day ArtsConnectEd workshop, conducted by Susan Rotilie, Program Manager for School Programs at the Walker Art Center, and Christine McKigney, Coordinator of School Outreach Programs at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
So the word “ArtsConnectEd” might not be familiar to some of you. To give you a good hint, here’s a question: what do you get when you mix a sleek presentation builder, gigantic artwork database and education community website into one?
ArtsConnectEd is the answer. Made nine years ago as a joint effort between the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Art , it’s a handy, user-friendly web tool designed to help educators build their very own curriculum using the artwork of the two institutions. And we’re not talking about two dozen photos of paintings here. There are thousands of pieces available for your perusal – from sculptures to sound clips, from bite-sized videos to event descriptions. You don’t even have to register to browse. Simply click on ‘Art Finder’ and go wild. If the prospect of leafing through 21062 pages of artsy goodness threatens to overwhelm, just enter some search terms into the ‘keyword’ search bar to narrow the scope of results, or pick and choose a trait from the cloud of tags on the homepage.
Want to make your own slideshow? Interested in playing curator for the day? Then simply click on ‘Art Collector’, register and jump right into making an ‘Art Collector Set’. Adding your chosen pieces to the set is only a matter of pointing and clicking. If you think you’ve made a particularly noteworthy set, click the ‘share’ button and send it to anyone you please!
Sounds pretty fantastic, no? Well, the workshop participants certainly thought so. After being given a short and sweet tour of the website’s infrastructure, they couldn’t wait for a chance to try ArtsConnectEd themselves. And what a chance they got. At the sound of Susan and Christine clapping their hands, the room fell silent and all eyes wandered to the new words on the projector screen. ‘ Scavenger Hunt’ . We give you an image from the ArtsConnectEd database with no additional information, you play detective and find its title and artist using any of the ArtsConnectEd resources. To the amazement of all Walker and MIA staff present, people were finding them in a minute or less and then traipsing to the front of the room to collect their prizes. Sigh. And we were so hoping to keep all that chocolate for ourselves.
Since everyone had become so well-acquainted with ArtsConnectEd in such a short space of time, we decided to let them explore the tool for themselves and build their own Art Collector’s Sets. The results were varied and nothing short of fascinating. One set described the numerous manifestations of shoes in the world of art, while another explored the possibilities of art as inspiration for creative writing. Not too bad at all for only a day’s work!
But that’s not all that took place. To give them some ideas on how to effectively use ArtsConnectEd in their teaching, the workshops participants were taken on engaging Visual Thinking Strategies tours at the MIA and tours about elements of contemporary art at the Walker. Armed with comfortable walking shoes and a keen sense of humor, two docents from each museum cruised the galleries with our lovely teachers, showing them how to apply said strategies to different kinds of art.
‘Hang on a minute. What on earth are Visual Thinking Strategies?’ you ask. They are, in short, educational methods that develop critical thinking through the consideration, discussion and analysis of images.
It occurred to me that the introduction to this concept was a particularly thoughtful addition to the workshop schedule. After all, instead of just showing educators a handy and versatile webtool, why not also suggest some pertinent ways with which to use it in the classroom? Using VTS with the resources of ArtsConnectEd opens up a world of possibilities. Through the implementation of these strategies, ArtsConnectEd becomes more than a way to look at our art collections, taking on a directly auxiliary role in the development of an important cognitive process.
All in all, the participants were mixed – experience with art education and web applications varied enormously. However, it was easy to see that everyone was unified in their desire to find new and exciting ideas to bring to their classrooms. And despite some nigh-bellicose encounters with technological hiccups, they definitely succeeded.
If you would like to know more about ArtsConnectEd from Susan Rotilie herself, go check out Show and Tell: The New ArtsConnectEd !