#ArtsEdWeek Spotlight on Women’s Studio Workshop

For #artsedweek, we 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 to find out what they had to say!

To learn more about how students are learning through the visual arts, we spoke with Ann Kalmbach, Executive Director of the Women’s Studio Workshop.

The Women’s Studio Workshop’s mission is to operate and maintain an artists’ work space that encourages the voice and vision of individual women artists, to provide professional opportunities and employment for artists at all stages of their careers, and to promote programs designed to stimulate public involvement, awareness and support for the visual arts.

The organization works with high school, middle school and fifth grade students of the Kingston School District in a school- and studio-based art-in-education program. Students work as artists, with artists over multiple full school days in WSW’s professional studios for printmaking, papermaking & book arts.

womens-studio-workshop-arts-ed

What do you think are the most important ways that the arts contribute to a child’s education?

The most important benefit of arts education in this day and age is encouraging young people to think. So much of what students do is rote –get the facts, learn the facts. Thinking, problem solving and exploring can be kind of off the radar unless they exist in the arts context. We can certainly enhance that and we can celebrate young folks for whom the rote part is challenging, for themselves and in relation to themselves and their peers.

Are there any particular contributions you see as unique to visual art?

Kids are comfortable with visual art. They’ve been with Crayolas and markers practically since birth. We translate that to pencil and paper or a print or the 3D object or the making of a book. We expand their inherent capacity to draw into new forms and into new ways of thinking.

Each time we prepare a program, we’re working with classroom teachers to determine what we can do to enhance the classroom work. We’re teaching on a skills basis. Students are going to learn how to make paper, how to make a print. We facilitate that on a close one-to-one basis.

What do you consider the priority goals of Women’s Studio Workshop’s arts education programs?

It’s the immersion. Kids come here for five hours at a time. It is about thinking about and making something over a chunk of time, so you can come up with an idea, change it, embellish it, or throw it out and start over.

Students come from the schools to the workshop, when they come in we say, “You are going to work as artists with artists.” That’s the whole underlying theme. Of our staff of teaching artists, we almost always have one from another culture, another country, so there’s another layer of cultural enhancement.

We also have fulltime interns, 22-year-olds working alongside kids who are 18. They can see someone working in the arts as a peer. And they can watch an artist over the span of time that they’re with us develop a project, how a project an artist may be working on for 10 weeks changes and evolves.

With elementary and middle school, we meet with principal and primary teachers, find out what the kids are reading, what their science projects are, what they just studied in History. We think of projects, and we try them out see what’s going to work, so when kids come, we’re ready. Then we go and explain who we are.

For example, we do one program with chemistry and art developed with a school district. Art and science students work in the art studio to process fiber and learn about the chemistry of that. They also learn the chemistry of etching that happens with a metal plate. We work with acid and it connects with what they’re learning in school.

What do you find most inspiring about your work with students?

At Women’s Studio Workshop, we’re in the business of supporting women artists in particular and providing opportunities. I believe our work with young people is the richest opportunity we offer to the general public. It makes a deep community impact and that’s important for us. We are making that program as rich as we can so that folks recognize that the depth of the work that we do is important.

How has NYSCA support helped you?

NYSCA support has been crucial. NYSCA was an early supporter and has continued to be a stable supporter. There is really no local funding of any kind. There’s no foundation, there’s no corporation. I don’t think we could replicate this program without NYSCA support.

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