These classes don’t just offer art instruction—they teach kids to think like artists.
Tucked away at Carnegie Museum of Art is a special studio space for creative young people. On Saturdays, a friendly cadre of 5th–9th graders gather there for The Art Connection. Taught by artists, the classes offer instructions on technique and pose unique challenges. Students might move from life drawing to printmaking, or be asked to destroy an earlier creation and make something entirely new from its pieces. It’s not your typical art instruction, as participants are also able to wander the galleries for inspiration. Working on still-life scenes? First visit an entire gallery of them! Considering a design project? Check out dozens of chairs, or architects’ models. These students spend two semesters immersed in the world of the museum. And the icing on the cake: each April, they mount an exhibition in the Hall of Sculpture to share their work.
These sessions have been taking place for 90 years, and have shaped generations of Pittsburghers. Andy Warhol, Jeff Goldblum, Duane Michals, and Raymond Saunders are among the prominent artists who spent their Saturdays in the museum’s studios. “The Art Connection really enmeshes young people into art-making and gives them space,” said Marilyn Russell, CMOA’s curator of education. “It’s about becoming familiar with how artists work, how they think, and how they solve problems. These are 21st-century skills that everyone will need.”
Throughout the year, instructors introduce new media, new ideas, and new ways of working at every level. In addition to their formal instruction, students experiment. How does watercolor paint interact with different surface materials? How did early photographers capture images? How can we express the importance of a place to our identity through different approaches to art-making? What should we consider when designing the dwellings of the future? Each set of questions yields wildly different responses from students, who bring their own personalities and creative voices.
In fall 2018, Pittsburgh-born artist Raymond Saunders—who came through the program—returns for a special session with this year’s students. Saunders’s paintings hang in museums across the country. His work Night Poetry lends its title to a dreamlike gallery of painting and sculpture at CMOA. “Working with established artists removes the barrier of mystery that so often surrounds artists and art-making,” said Natalie Potts, associate curator of education. “TAC students can see themselves as artists, too.”
There is no single path to becoming an artist. Likewise, participants carry strategies for critical thinking and problem-solving for the rest of their lives. CMOA hears often from the thousands of Art Connection alums whose experiences have deeply influenced them. As Russell points out: “Art makes visible the things and ideas we’re curious about, that we love, or that challenge us. It provides a path to understand them and to express a reasoned perspective. Developing the skills and the confidence to do that empowers kids to become real contributors to the world.”
CMOA enrolls students each semester.