Carnegie Museum of Art’s hands-on Art Connection classes have inspired local kids for decades

The Art Connection at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) is the longest continually running series of art classes for middle-school-aged kids in Pittsburgh — running since 1929. One of its graduates is a nationally renowned sculptor with an exhibit at the museum right now.

When kids are busy getting their hands messy with clay, painting on canvas, or building a sculpture with cardboard anywhere, creating art is fun. But when it’s happening inside the walls of one of the most iconic art museums in the country, it’s even better.

Ava Miller, who’s 14, from Plum, has taken the Saturday classes with The Art Connection for three years.  She says one of her favorite parts is walking through the galleries of the museum.

“I feel very lucky to sit with my class, talking about a certain style of painting, about a certain medium, and then taking a walk and see it represented by an actual piece of art,” Miller says.  “Seeing it in 3D and the colors and the textures, it’s irreplaceable.”

That also inspired professional artist and professor, Sharif Bey, when he lived in Beltzhoover and was a student in The Art Connection, and it still inspires him.  He specifically references work from the Art and Natural History museums in his current exhibit at the Carnegie. 

 “I grew up in this museum, and I like to point out when people ask that you can walk from one of my pieces to a Van Gogh in 20 paces from here, and I think that demystifies what it means to be an artist,” Bey told KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen when he returned to Pittsburgh for his exhibit.  He also visited with the students at The Art Connection, one of many working artists to visit the class.

The fifth- through ninth-graders aren’t all studying to be professional artists. It’s the creativity, problem-solving and exploration that draws them.

“I think that (The Art Connection) Saturday art classes provide a space for young people to really get to exercise and expand their critical and creative thinking skills,” says CMOA’s director of education and public programming, Dana Bishop-Root. “And that’s something sometimes that within school, within the basis of where testing has to be prioritized, that it doesn’t always get to be free.”

The technique Ava Miller’s learned shows in her work, and even though she wants to be a computer scientist someday, the personal skills learned from creating art will always be with her.

She says she’s learned, “how I thought about failing and doing things the wrong way and creative problem-solving and learning from past mistakes and learning from other people’s mistakes and taking criticism without feeling attacked. I think those are all really important in any workforce.” 

There are many more classes for kids older and younger, plus summer camps, at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  Click here for more information on the Art Connection, and check out the CMOA’s programming for teens and kids. And if you have a child who loves art, check out Kidsburgh’s Arts Learning Guide!