THE ARTS IN EDUCATION
The Frick Invites Students into Gilded Age
“All kids collect things,” explains Jennie Coyne, who runs school and student programs at The Frick Collection. A student visit to the magnificent Frick mansion, home of steel magnate Henry Frick and his art collection, is a “really good entry point” to understanding the passion for acquiring fine art, she said. “The kids are really into the atmosphere of this once-private home and are amazed by the Gilded Age,” Coyne said. They make connections between the art, the house, and the collector. Consistent with its storied history and extraordinary collection, The Frick Collection provides high-quality school visits designed to engage, deliver information, and leave students with factual knowledge and personal connections to objects.
Class visits to the museum are open to grades 5 through 12 as well as to college and graduate students. They can be guided or unguided and are offered in English, French and Spanish. To preserve The Frick’s much loved tranquil atmosphere, the popular guided tours are kept small (the maximum of 30 students is divided into three or four independent groups, each with its own guide), providing a very personal experience. A topic is chosen from “Appreciating Art in The Frick,” “Decorative Arts,” or “Who Was Mr. Frick.” Museum educators tailor each visit around the chosen subject and needs of the class. Teachers can request other themes or discussion of a particular work.
The teaching style involves scaffolding, or layering of art historical information into answers. For example, after viewing a Rembrandt self-portrait, students are asked for one statement and one question. Explains Coyne, this flips the classroom model of instructor asking the questions.
“This is what we want,” she says. “Student questions are generally very open-ended, indicating imaginations have been sparked.” Gallery activities are sometimes included,especially for middle school, and can range from sketching to writing poetry to acting. High school students, often familiar with the artists, have “much deeper conversations,” Coyne says. Studio art classes interested in technique might focus on Vermeer and perspective. Social studies classes studying the Gilded Age sometimes pair a Frick visit with one to The Tenement Museum.
To remedy the frustration of seeing a class only one time, Coyne has created school partnerships in which an entire class or grade visits The Frick once a month for five months, meeting with the same educator and, at the end, creating their own object or writing. “I love it,” confesses Coyne, “love getting to know the students and watching them become comfortable looking at art.”
Free after-school and weekend programs for middle and high school students are very popular. Youngsters register as individuals and come to the museum independently. “Alive At The Frick,” for high school students, involves a one to one-and-a-half hour guided conversation in front of one work. “It is really amazing…a one-of-a-kind experience to sit down in front of an object and talk about it,” Coyne says. Middle School Art Club involves themes, such as “Greek Heroes and Monsters” and “Kings and Queens,” and specific artists and works. Guided by a museum educator, half the time is spent in the gallery and half in an art room where the students create objects or writings related to the theme.
The Frick’s commitment to quality art education is reflected in its professional staff. Coyne, the personable, can-do Assistant Museum Educator, was “always a museum junkie,” she says. “Growing up in New York City had a huge influence on my love of art.” She received her bachelor’s degree in art history from Harvard 2001 and a Master’s degree in Museum Education from The Bank Street College of Education in 2006.
While earning her degrees, she interned at Harvard’s Fogg Museum and New York’s Rubin Museum. During her first post-college job, teaching at Columbia University’s new elementary school, she wrote a book about female artists for her fourth graders to correct the dearth of information on the subject. Subsequently published in the art history series for children called “Come Look With Me,” her book, “Discovering Women Artists for Children,” is still in print.
Meanwhile, Coyne grew her professional museum experience. She was hired to lead weekend family programs at The Fogg, then taught Art History 101 to middle schoolers on weekends at The Metropolitan Museum of Art , and spent three years as manager of the Education Department at The Rubin Museum. Her current dream job came when Rika Burnham, Head of Education at The Frick who Coyne had met when both previously worked at The Metropolitan, offered her a position.
There are lessons in Coyne’s career trajectory for those interested in museum education. An advanced degree in museum education or art history is standard. “Intern or volunteer whenever you can,” advises Coyne. “There’s a lot more internal mobility than jobs coming from the outside.” Departments are small, positions are few, and people stay because “everyone really loves this job,” but “opportunities can come up when you are on the inside.” Be innovative, flexible, and pro-active when seeking a job. Three out of her class of 20 at Bank Street currently work in museums. Positions can also be found in cultural organizations, after-school programs, and schools. #
For information about visiting The Frick Collection, see www.frick.org/education.