#ArtsEdWeek Spotlight on Salvadori Center

Courtesy of Salvadori Center


For #artsedweek, we’ve asked some of our Arts Education Program grantees to tell us more about how they bring literature, music, visual art, architecture, theater, film, and dance to students throughout the state. Check our blog or Facebook through September 16 to find out what they had to say!

To learn more about how students are learning math, science, and art through architecture, we spoke with Kenneth Jones, Executive Director of the Salvadori Center.

Located in Manhattan, the Salvadori Center uses the built environment as a vehicle for student learning, individual creativity, and the development of 21st century skills. Residencies celebrate a collaborative, hands-on, project-based approach with programs that teach students design, architecture, science, technology, engineering and math. All Salvadori curricula link to The New York City Department of Education’s Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts, and grade-specific learning objectives. After participating in our programs, students see the beauty and logic of the built environment in their local communities, and understand how art, design, math, and science are relevant to their lives.

salvadori-blog-post-3Courtesy of Salvadori Center

How and why does the Salvadori Center use architecture and design concepts to focus on arts education?

In the late 70s, our founder and a prominent civil engineer, Mario Salvadori, was in a meeting with the New York Academy of Sciences and they were talking about how to improve the teaching of math, science and the arts in middle school. He said, “Architecture and engineering is all around these kids. It’s in the buildings and parks they enter, and the bridges they cross.” He thought one of the best ways to show students the relevance of their education and value of the arts –what we now call STEAM – was to have them explore concepts for themselves through hands-on projects.

Over the last 40 years we’ve modernized the curriculum. We have a variety of programs that are grade-specific. They’re tied to educational standards including the New York City Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Visual Arts. So we not only model best practices for teachers, we also show the teachers how everyday curricula can be linked to national standards that support the arts.

Architecture has a complex skill set and vocabulary. How do you make it approachable?

Most of our staff are professional architects, engineers, designers, and built environment professionals. What we do is integrate the arts into science, math, and social studies curricula. For instance, as second graders look at facades, they draw and learn about the geometric compositions embedded in those facades. They’re learning fundamental art concepts, and the teachers think it’s great because they’re getting the arts and sciences in one class. It’s not just how a building stands up and functions; it’s also about the building’s proportions, responsiveness to the surrounding community, and its beauty. If you’re going to create STEAM programs, architecture is one of the most natural ways to do so because it’s always been a practice that marries art and science.

Our process is project-based. Every class has two to three activities where kids build their own experiments. If two groups are learning how arches work in a Roman aqueduct, one group’s arch might last a little longer. This gives us a reason to talk about craftsmanship and planning. The students have workbooks with vocabulary lists and images in the classroom with vocabulary words attached. The projects they build reinforce new vocabulary. If you’re going to teach a new vocabulary word and a kid builds something that represents that word, they’re going to hold on to it a lot longer.

salvadori-blog-post-1Courtesy of Salvadori Center

How do particular programs connect to school curricula?

We have a great curriculum called Landmarks, Monuments and Memorials. Students have to design community-based monuments and memorials for a specific purpose. If I’m designing a monument it could be about celebration, tragedy, communing. What material is it? Is it shiny, metallic, cold, soft, organic, reflective? Something to touch and feel warm? A contemplative private space or grand public gesture? Students learn about the psychological, social, and cultural elements that go into designing a public memorial. Getting kids to think in a bigger way is what arts education is all about. Also, there are kids who learn by reading, hearing, doing – arts education does all that in one project, especially if it’s collaborative and project-based.

We have another curriculum where kids design a skate park. They learn fundamental principles that urban planners use to design cities and control how people move around public space. They not only learn about the science behind skate parks – friction, slope, and inclined planes – they also learn about design concepts such as organizational methods, how to control traffic patterns and flow, about vista, views, surprise, and pageantry or process from one point to another.

Building Green is our newest curriculum. It was developed for 9th graders; we now have adaptations for the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades as well. They design a building from start to finish located in Central Park. They measure the retention and release of heat in materials and learn about insulation properties. They learn natural ventilation techniques. The final project is a public use building like the restaurant Tavern on the Green that has a kitchen, service area and public room. They build a model and present it. They have to show all the intellectual decisions they made and what they learned. What’s the floor material? Why? How is that energy efficient? How are passive and active solar energy used? Where are the windows? It’s not just creating a fantasy building. It’s really incorporating all the green design an architect would.

Every year, we have a Student Design Charrette where students have to design a structure, incorporating math and science. This year it was a community water tower in an area where there were earthquakes. We had 7 schools come, and more than 100 kids. In the morning, they’re assigned to teams with other kids they’ve never met before and professional designers, planners, engineers and architects from major firms. The teams get their challenge when they arrive. They have six hours to brainstorm, come up with a design, go through the design development and construction phases and test the project. The structures are made out of spaghetti – it’s a really fragile material! We successively added weight while testing until each project failed. While adding weight we were also applying earthquake force, so it was moving laterally. The two winning teams lasted just over 160 seconds each, and the winning structure held 8.5 times its own weight!

salvadori-blog-post-2Courtesy of Salvadori Center

What do you consider the most pressing challenges facing arts education programs today – and how do you work to solve them?

There seems to be a growing view – almost a societal stigma –that the arts are a luxury that kids or families should do out of school. We need to do a better job communicating the value of the arts in helping kids learn. I’m constantly talking about how kids that go through our program are learning 21st century career skills that every employer wants. They’re learning how to think critically, they’re learning how to come up with creative solutions to tough problems, and they’re learning how to collaborate. Knowing how to think critically and how to work with other people to develop creative solutions to tough problems is the key to success in any career.

Another barrier is money. It’s hard for schools and non-profits. We want to keep our programs affordable but we also have to make payroll, pay rent, electricity and utilities, and make sure employees have health care. At Salvadori, we keep programs affordable by underwriting a large percentage of the costs. Our operating budget is divided into three parts: approximately 1/3 is covered by grants, 1/3 is covered by board-driven fundraising, and 1/3 is generated by program fees.

How has NYSCA support helped you?

Probably the most important way is it truly is the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval.” The state’s leading arts funder values and approves us and we’re very proud to put that stamp on everything we send out. Also valuable is the financial support that comes from the grant, which helps us to underwrite 75% of the costs. This makes our programs affordable for a lot of schools who wouldn’t otherwise have access to arts education.


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