The Arts Page | Program | #712 — Milwaukee Art Museum’s Junior Docent School Program

The Arts Page | Program | #712 —  Milwaukee Art Museum’s Junior Docent School Program

(dreamy music) (lively jazz music) – Hi, I’m Sandy Maxx and
welcome to this special episode of “The Arts Page.” We are on location at
the Milwaukee Art Museum to share with you
an exceptional way that art here has been
impacting the education and lives of thousands of
young people in our city. For over 40 years, the
Milwaukee Art Museum has been inviting students from third through fifth grade to explore art in depth through their Junior
Docent School Program. Over the course of three years, these students get
an insider’s look at the artworks at the museum while discovering how the
history and language of art influences their daily lives. Come follow the fifth graders
of Milwaukee’s ALBA school as they take everything
they’ve learned and prepare to become
official junior docents. (tranquil music) – [Sarah] Art
belongs to everyone and everyone should
experience it and there is some bit of joy that can happen
between you personally and an experience
and the art museum. – [Sandy] The
Milwaukee Art Museum is Wisconsin’s
largest art museum. There are more than
30,000 artworks in the museum’s collection ranging from classic
pieces from ancient times to modern, contemporary art. With many of these
world class works of art on display in over 40 galleries, this makes the
Milwaukee Art Museum a premiere resource to
understand the breadth of the history of art. – [Brigid] We are a
collection of collectors. So it’s been the generosity
of people in Wisconsin who have made this institution and made it as
great as it’s been. Our mission is to display
and conserve works of art but also to interpret
and educate. That’s as much a part of
our mission as anything else and so it’s very important that we have a variety
of programs for all ages from really zero to 99
and we do the whole gamut. – We are gonna learn
today about art or the projects that
other people, artists did. – [Susie] Exactly. The Junior Docent program is
our signature school program. When I first came to the museum, we didn’t, we served more
of the surrounding counties than we actually did the
Milwaukee public schools and one of my goals
was to really get us deep in Milwaukee
public schools. It’s our surrounding
area and those kids really have an opportunity
to come to the museum. So we began to take all
of the grants we got and really put it into
our Junior Docent program, which is a three-year
program, third to fifth grade, and it’s an opportunity for kids to really get to
know the museum, to have a sense of
ownership in the museum, to begin with a very
positive experience, to begin to learn how to
talk about works of art and be comfortable doing that, and it has proven
over the years, over the 42, almost 43 years, to be an outstanding program and one that has a
really long life. – [Sandy] The Junior
Docent School Program began in the 1970s under the
guidance of Barbara Brown Lee, who is the head of education
at the Milwaukee Art Museum for over 50 years. – There was a docent here by
the name of Helen McLaughlin, and she was doing
tours for a school, the Golda Meir School
here in Milwaukee, with the third grade teacher, who was really the
French teacher, and she had been working
with him for many years and he was, I think,
completely bored with hearing this same
mantra over and over again. And he said to her, his
name was Antoine Lentier, and he said to her, “Well, let’s change the tours, “and that’ll help me and
it’ll help the children.” I had been to taught to
create object lessons. You’d pick an object
and you’d research it and write about
it and I loved it. I said, “Tony, what
would you think “if we did different
things each year,” because he came for three
years with the same students. So between Tony and Helen,
they kind of carved this out. The kids loved it,
the parents loved it and it turned into, I think,
a very special program. – [Mauree] So we’re
gonna start with ancient and we’re gonna
go to contemporary and hopefully, if all goes well, we’re gonna cover about
2,000 years of art. – It started with
just four schools and currently we have
53 schools represented and those schools include a lot
of Milwaukee public schools, charter schools,
private schools as well, and it’s a three-year commitment
for schools and teachers. Each year, from third grade,
fourth grade, and fifth grade, the students come on
three field trips per year and in their final year, they
complete a research project based on a favorite piece of
artwork from the collection. [Yan] Cardboard so thick, it
made it very different to cut. (children talking) – On a typical tour, the students arrive at
the student entrance and are greeted by the docent that will be taking
them on their tour. – [Sandy] A docent is
a trained volunteer who leads visitors of all ages on group tours through
a museum’s galleries. – How about right here? Can we all have a
seat right here? Let’s sit right on the floor. Is that all right with you? How many people have
been here before? And this is the
Milwaukee Art Museum and it’s just a beautiful
place, isn’t it? – Then we talk about what tour
they’re going to be taking. [Mauree] Well, today we’re
going to do a big overview where it’s called
antiquities to contemporary. – [Grace] Then we just
into the galleries and usually the children
would see eight to ten pieces. – Pilgrim is someone who
moves for a religious reason. These guys looked like the
people from the Netherlands but they’re actually
from England. – [Guide] Now, let’s keep going. – In the Junior Docent
program, in the third grade, we begin by having kids
explore works of art and learn about them
through their senses. – Also we have ears that
hear, nose that smells. – [Sandy] The students start
building an art vocabulary to help them investigate
how line, shape, color and texture make
up a work of art. – [Sarah] In the
fourth grade year, students learn a little
bit about portraiture and how that ties into history and it ends with community
traditions where all students, no matter where they come from
or what their background is can find a personal
connection in the collection. – [Sandy] In their final year, fifth graders experience
four tours at the museum to extend their learning. The students begin with a tour of American history through art. – The guy who has the
power is in the blue hat which stands for the North. So you can tell the whole
history of the Civil War from this wonderful
painting if you know, somewhat of what artists do
and if you look at the details. – Our docents are a really
important part of this program. A big priority is trying
to engage the students in learning through art. – This is New York. Most of the people on the
street came from somewhere else. New York is a big
place for immigrants. I want you to look at this
painting and decide for yourself whether they came
for religious reasons or whether they came
for economic reasons or did they come for
political reasons. A political reason
to come to America. What in the painting
led you to think that? – [Jazmine] Many countries, some things that, that are allowed here weren’t
allowed in other places. – [George] You were paying
very good intention. – Especially with
the junior docents, we also want to take
time at each art piece to talk about the
artist and the title and when the piece was acquired and different things that
they’re going to need to learn for down the road. – The artist, Thomas Cole, was a person who started
a group of painters that painted the
American Wilderness and when these paintings
were seen in Europe, they were amazed. – We have these wonderful people that are willing
to give their time and teach off these objects,
make them come alive. – So they decided to
start painting on canvas. Now pass this around. Canvas is cloth. – [Sarah] The amount of
knowledge and storytelling that they are able to
provide the students is a really positive
interaction. – In the early 1800s, they
developed tubes of paint, so they could now, instead of
having to be in the studio, and taking rock and grinding
it and adding oil to it, they could put it in a tube. (children talking) – [Sandy] For their second tour, fifth graders explore
the vast history of art on a tour called “Antiquities
to Contemporary”. – The Catholic Church also
paid for a lot of artists to do their artwork, so that’s why we see a lot
of the artwork of this time being about religion. So what did you observe from
the ancient Egyptian to here? – [Diego] That the
world has changed since the ancient parts of the world. – The world has changed
since the ancient times. Very well said. Yeah, good observations. – [Sarah] The idea of the tour
is to help students remember all of the pieces of
artwork that they’ve seen over the last three years
in their visits here and really choose one that
resonates with them personally. – [Sandy] Once a student selects
an art piece to focus on, he or she will spend
more quality time with that chosen artwork
during the third tour, called “Study and Sketch.” – The first half of
the 90-minute session, we’re modeling
presentation skills where the docent is showing them how to stand in front
of the painting, how to use proper
voice projection and talk about items
of interest, technique, or the historical period
it was painted in. So if you’ve seen a Campbell’s
soup can in your house, you know that it’s usually
red and white, right? So here the artist, Andy Warhol, who was famous
for taking common, everyday materials
like a soup can and turning them into something
artistic with color, size. He makes it big and bold
so we can’t ignore it. And then they have the last
half of the 90-minute period to sketch it and to answer
some questions in a workbook so that’s really thinking
about the painting as they’re looking
at the painting and starting to kind of
formulate in their own mind how they will present it to friends and family
on graduation day. – [Isabel] It feels realistic. Every time that
I draw something, it just makes me
feel more calmer. – Oh, yeah, I love to walk
around and see the sketching. Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. I love to watch the children
do their interpretation of what they saw or why they liked it. – Every, like, picture has
a different story to it and that’s why I like the
artist made it look like that. And I just like learning. It’s really fun. – We have kids of all
different languages, all different backgrounds. It’s wonderful when a child that does not really
speak the language sits down with that
pencil and paper and starts drawing and
you see that connection between that child
and that piece of work and words don’t matter at all. [David] I chose to draw it
because I like the colors on it. They look cool and
light and a little bit of darkness on the sides. And also because I wanted to give
myself a challenge, instead of drawing
something easy. – I really think it’s important for everybody to feel
welcome in this space. I know a lot of people
think of art museums as a very elitist
kind of environment. I’ll tell you, when you see
the kids laying on the floor, copying an artwork you
realize how important it is to have that
community integration. – [Sandy] These students are
from Milwaukee’s ALBA school. – When you are working at your- – Alba stands for Academia
de Lenguaje y Bellas Artes which is the Academy of
Language and Fine Arts. ALBA is a bilingual school. All of our 500 students speak Spanish as
their first language so they come to ALBA
because ALBA’s a school that focuses on
developing their Spanish alongside with their English so that as they learn English, they can also keep growing
in their native language. – The students really
enjoy being part of the Junior Docent program. It’s really building their
skills and confidence to be able to go into the museum and relate to works of
art, explain works of art, really transfer the things
that they’re learning inside of the classroom, to be able to go
in and understand how other people
communicate through artwork. – Excellent. Good eye. Yes. – So fifth graders get
to do a capstone project where they get to pick
their very favorite piece that they want to,
first of all, recreate and then also that
they want to research enough to be able to be a docent explaining that
piece of artwork. – [Emeli] I like flowers and I wanted to
know why the artist chose kind of sad colors. – [Sarah] What you saw
today was some sculpture, some painting. – I’m painting this type
of painting that’s called, wet, like, you
have to do it light so that it doesn’t do it
very hard so it looks neat. – With the sky, it’s tricky. Like, making the little swirls ’cause then it
all gets together. – [Jennifer] Some things
worked out in cardboard. You saw kids choosing clay. So however they chose to
manifest those pieces. – [Yan] This is
one of the hardest things I’ve done but I’m mostly, I’m very, very confident about this. I will do good. – [Sandy] After spending
three years investigating, connecting with,
and recreating art, the final tour is the
graduation ceremony where the students earn
the title of Junior Docent. – They bring their work
of art and they present it and the real work of art to
their friends and family. – [Diego] The title
of this artwork is “Teddy Roosevelt
the Roughrider.” This sculpture was made
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the year 1910. The things that I learned
during making this artwork was planning what to do and how to use clay
a little bit more. – [Ana] My painting is
called “Gossip Junction.” The painting was made
in 1968 by Antoine Obin. I think that the hardest
part of my painting was painting the people because they are so
many different shapes and they are so detailed. I learned that artwork
is not just work, it is fun because
you can be creative. – They come just really fired up to talk about what they’ve
done and what they’ve learned. – [Emeli] The artwork that
I studied and recreated is called, “Still Life with
Flowers,” 1918 by Joan Miro. If this work of art could
talk, I think it would say, “I have sad colors
but bright colors. “Sad because my painter
was sad when he painted me “but bright because
he did not give up.” – [Azon] I’ll be speaking
about Wendell Castle and his beautiful sculpture
named “The Walking Cabinet.” I chose this artwork
because it is very colorful and it is a very big sculpture. When I see this artwork,
I see lots of colors, including light
ones and dark ones. If this artwork could talk,
I think that it would say that it us very
happy or excited. – [Sheilymar] My artist’s
name Kees van Dongen. One of his favorite
paintings that he made was “Woman with Cat,” which is the painting
that I copied. I like this painting
because when I look at it, I feel confident and relaxed. When I look at the colors, they tell me to be
brave and be confident. – [Judy] Their friends
and family come and we go through all the
galleries with a small group and each child then is
presenting their work of art. – [Jazmine] The
title of my artwork is “Campbell’s Soup”
by Andy Warhol. This was made in the year 1965. I chose this piece of art
because of the pop art colors. There are some primary
colors here and there but it’s usually a
mix of all the colors. – [Rafael] The artwork
makes me feel happy because it looks like a
sculpture about friendship because it has a triangle
and a square being together. I think that art is a
challenging subject for me but art can be interpreted
differently by other people. [Edwin] When I look at the
artwork it makes me feel good because people could
see it right now and could be inspired by it. – The title of my painting is
called “Sunset in Georgia.” The artist is George Inness. The first I saw this painting, I felt I was in Georgia
watching the sun go down because it was so realistic. The thing people should
think about this painting is that if we don’t
keep our earth clean, we won’t have any more
beautiful sunsets like this one and we won’t have
a beautiful world. – [Judy] They’ve learned
enough about the art and how to talk about the art and how to present art to
their friends and family, that they’re ready to be
pinned as a Junior Docent. – [Sarah] Parents get
to pin to the docent pin on their student at the
graduation ceremony. Many of the parents
are very grateful and impressed by how well their students deliver
a presentation, how the program develops
their public speaking skills and how well they’re
able to connect with the piece of artwork. – It was awesome. I felt very proud of her. Yeah, I didn’t know
she could do so much. (laughs) About her being brave
enough to, you know, speak in front of her classmates and being able to
present her artwork. So it was really awesome. I’ve never been to
the art museum before so it was an awesome experience. – Everything about the whole
art program was fabulous and absolute greatness. I liked it. His courage to go up
there and speak with, you know, in front of the public and just, you know, be a
leader for a lot of the youth, or a lot of his classmates. He seemed a little nervous. A lot of the kids did well. It’s a good thing, it
was a beautiful thing so, I’m proud of all the kids. – [Sandy] Over
the last 40 years, the Junior Docent
experience has had a lifelong impact on
thousands of students. – For the longest time,
I actually didn’t know that I was a Junior Docent. I experienced the
program and then for years afterwards it was, “Oh, I did a bunch of things “at the art museum
when I was a kid “and took all these tours and
learned about all this art,” and I see a direct part from
the Junior Docent exposure and program and learning
to my career as an artist and art educator. As a Junior Docent,
I think I was encouraged to ask questions, to follow my curiosities, to really try to understand
the work as a young person and now teaching young people
I feel better connected to what those thoughts might be, where those curiosities may lie. – This one has got, like, live things that
actually happened? – They are! They’re
historical things. – What the Junior Docent
program offered us as students was we were engaged in
the act of interpreting. I do know those experiences,
those early experiences, of feeling so comfortable
inside of a museum, not just as a viewer, but then
also as an active participant in interpreting
art that I can go and I have the permission to participate
actively and freely. Programs like this that
have been successful that do invite young people into experiences
of arts and culture are, I mean, that’s
what we need. – Jacob, did you
have a special reason why you picked this
work of art to present? – I like the shapes. – The shape is very
interesting, isn’t it. That’s a great answer, yes. – Painters use red, to like, so like people can, kinda like notice the painting. – That’s right! Red is, it draws
your eye, doesn’t it? – These students get so
excited and learn so much and are able to share
that with other people that, yeah. It’s why I get up and do my job. – The funnest part
has been to make art. – I think they learned about
not only the works of art. They learned about
what museums do, how they do it, why they do it and they can perform
for their parents. That was the most
exciting for me. That was my treat, then I knew we were, we
had done something good. – They really get a
deep understanding of what it means to be a docent, what it means to be an expert that is a guide to other people because they have become
the experts themselves. – [Jonathan] An interesting
fact about Isamu Noguchi is that he has traveled all around the country
making sculptures. If I could him a question,
it’d probably be, “What is the best
sculpture you have created “so far in your life?” – I know they’re gonna go
on and they’re gonna be better prepared for middle
school and high school than most of their counterparts
in the public school system because they’ve gone through
this really focused program. – To be in a program like this, you may discover
your passion is art or if not, maybe it’s just
an appreciation for art. – When I grow up, I wish I
could be, like, an artist. If they wanted to, they
could put my artwork in the art museum. – [Sarah] It gives
kids the opportunity to learn beyond the classroom and understand that the
world is a learning space. – [Brigid] This program, it
gives the students that freedom to walk in these
rooms and feel at home and I would want that for
every person in Milwaukee. – [Sarah] Congratulations,
43rd Junior Docent class for the Milwaukee Art Museum. (audience applauds) – Over 150,000 students
have become junior docents since this program
began in 1976. What an incredible
legacy of arts education right here in Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Art
Museum’s commitment to continuing to
foster arts education for all ages is impressive. You can get involved. Find out more about the
Junior Docent School Program and other opportunities to learn about
artworks at the museum by visiting the Milwaukee Art
Museum’s official website, What art in our area has
been inspiring to you? Is there a local artist
or arts organization that has made an
impact in your life? If you think their story would make a great
feature for our show, let us know. Please call us at 414-797-3730 with your comments
and your story ideas. If you wanna see more of the art and artists featured
on “The Arts Page,” you can stream our over 200
previous episodes online when you visit the
Milwaukee PBS website at and
click on The Arts Page. You can find Milwaukee
PBS on Facebook too. I’m Sandy Maxx. Thank you for watching and
please join us next time for another half hour full
of art on “The Arts Page.” (lively jazz music)

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