UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 18 Spring 24 Library
Teacher's Preview at The Fralin Museum of Art
The Fralin Museum of Art

Educating from The Fralin

For art museums across the country, the metrics are changing. According to Dr. M. Jordan Love, the Carol R. Angle Academic Curator of The Fralin Museum of Art's education department and the museum's former interim co-director. "Where success was once measured by a clicker to track visitors, there are now different factors that are less measurable but just as important. 

"In the last decade, so much of the conversation in the museum world has been about how well we engage our audiences. Who are we reaching? If you are doing exhibitions and scholarship, that is important, but it is only half the job. The other half is how well we engage and teach audiences through our exhibitions?"

Educational programs have long been a strength at The Fralin, particularly during the last ten-plus years that Love has been leading the efforts. Together with her team, Love has built a variety of inventive and successful collaborative programs that extend across the community and across the university. These include the acclaimed Clinician's Eye partnership with UVA's Medical School. "We all felt," Love said, "like now is the time to focus on teachers. This is something that takes us to the next level because so many other museums are limiting themselves to general tours for the K-12 community, but they are not focusing enough on what teachers really need."

Angela Corpuz, Manager of Family & Community Programs

A significant step in that process was recruiting people who knew those needs well. "It was so important to us to find people who knew the school system, who know teachers, and who can embed themselves in the system." They hit the jackpot with two recent hires. 

Angela Corpuz spent five years as an art teacher at Greenbrier Elementary School in Charlottesville before joining The Fralin team in the past year. Previously, she had worked with former Associate Academic Curator Aimee Hunt to create after-school art programs at the museum for two years before the pandemic altered the arts education landscape. Today, as the museum's outreach efforts are ramping back up toward pre-2020 levels, Corpuz is involved in a variety of programs. A few include Art SpArcs, a partnership with The Arc of the Piedmont, which provides a space for artists with developmental disabilities to engage with art and each other through meaningful artmaking experiences. As one of the few team members with a studio art background, she is happy to be the point person on all artmaking efforts at the museum.

Zora Heard, School Programs Specialist

Zora Heard grew up in Charlottesville and participated for years in The Fralin's acclaimed Writer's Eye program, which encourages writers of all ages to use the visual art housed in the museum to inspire poetry and prose. She later received her master's degree from the UVA School of Education. She then spent three years as an English teacher at Buford Middle School, which brought her experience full circle by bringing her own students to The Fralin to participate in Writer's Eye. The more Heard learned in her first few months on the job, the surer she was that she had landed in the right place. "I wish I'd had these kinds of professional learning opportunities when I was still teaching. It is so important to give teachers the opportunity to step outside the classroom for a minute and to come into a space where they can find inspiration and consider how they might incorporate it into their own practice. From my own experience as a teacher, what I really wanted out of professional development was to feel energized when I left."  

As any teacher can tell you, this feeling is more of an exception than a rule. "The fact of the matter is that teachers get a lot of mediocre professional development," said Emily Lazaro, Manager of Docent & Teacher Programs. "I never want to waste a teacher's time. We have been in the classroom before and know time is a precious commodity! We put a lot of energy into our professional development and work hard to creatively engage with teachers." 

Lazaro also shared that the team is dedicated to meeting teachers where they are by offering multiple entry points to the museum. "We are trying to appeal to those who may never have thought to bring their classes to the museum, as well as those who may come every year and use our YouTube videos as part of their curriculum." 

A crucial barrier to entry is cost. These programs are offered to teachers and school systems free of charge, thanks to support from our generous donors, including significant funding from The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, as well as Thesa Jolly, Tom and Ann Piper, Shirley French, James and Carla Bradshaw, and other members and friends.  

Teacher's Creative Session at The Fralin Musuem of Art

Artmaking is another key component to the museum's outreach efforts -- from the adorable line of kindergartners exiting the doors on a beautiful May morning -- to the professional development sessions The Fralin's education team is offering teachers of all levels. There is no shortage of professional development options for teachers these days, but few of them offer the mind-expanding fun the museum can.

The benefits that The Fralin's education programs bring to teachers are not limited to any one subject area. "What we do is for teachers in all content areas," Heard said. "People have these preconceived notions about museums, and especially one that exists within a larger higher education institution, that if they are not art historians, or art teachers, that a program like this is not for them." She pointed to a recent successful session with secondary social studies teachers. "They were excited by the connections that they were able to make just in our short time together and the new ways they might use art to teach history. What we do is not limited to any single content area. It is about teaching people how to use critical thinking skills." 

The programs at The Fralin are designed to be liberating for educators. "You are not being graded or tested," Lazaro said. "It is thinking in the wild." 

Different ways of thinking can bring new avenues for discussion. "Works of art are complex," Lazaro said. "They let us talk about history and identity and these hot-button topics that may be difficult to approach in general conversation. But when you are talking about a work of art, the focus is on the art. We invite people to have complicated conversations, and teachers appreciate that."

Love said that part of the value of having Corpuz and Heard in their positions was to revive a longtime effort to partner with the UVA School of Education. "It is something I have been working on since I arrived here eleven years ago." She often ran into the barrier of the fact that the school did not have an art education program. "It is really about breaking down that perception wall," Love said, "and having Zora here, bringing her own experience on both sides, has allowed us to provide an important entry point. It's a relationship we hope to keep improving and expanding upon."

The Fralin hosted a three-hour session with UVA School of Education students last spring. "The one-year master's program is excellent, and it can be intense," Heard said. "It is nice to have a bit of a reprieve where you can think in different ways while being creative."

Teacher's Preview at The Fralin Museum of Art

Corpuz said the sessions can serve to expand a teacher's toolbox in ways they might not have expected. "I think that artmaking can open the door for these students, and for teachers at any level to be more explorative and experimental. Most of them are not artists, but by having experiences like these, they are building empathy for their future students. They can put themselves in their students' shoes by stepping outside of their own comfort zones and taking on something new."

While strong marketing efforts are helping bring the message to the museum's backyard. There are still barriers to overcome. "We want people to know that this is not just the University of Virginia's museum," Love said. "What happens here is open to all, and we are so excited to help more teachers, and thus more students, discover that."

The Fralin Museum of Art

The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia encourages the spirit of curiosity and promotes diversity of thought through the study, care, and celebration of art.
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