Program brings art education to rural schools

Published: Apr. 27, 2017 at 8:00 AM CDT
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A local program tries to make sure all kids in southwest Missouri have access to art education.

The Placeworks program is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the Springfield Art Museum. It places art instructors in low-income or rural schools in southwest Missouri, so all kids have access to creative outlets.

Students at Willard South Elementary have been working on their Placeworks project for most of the school year. It's a large, moving, musical mural.

"We had second through fourth grade working on it. It was about... almost 300 kids," said Michelle Christensen, music teacher at Willard South. "Which I think was great because it's such a great project that they're very proud of and they know that they worked on together."

Placeworks has been to more than 25 districts in its seven years, as far away as West Plains and Thayer and as close as Willard.

"Even though Willard is as close as it is to Springfield, a lot of the students have never had the opportunity to go to the art museum," said Sandi Baker, Placeworks instructor. "And so, rather than taking them to the art museum, we come to them."

Sometimes, the Placeworks programs are the only art, music or theater experiences at that school. In places like Willard South, where they already have a great arts program in place, Placeworks supplements what kids are already learning in their classes. Since many Placeworks projects are collaborative and interactive, kids are also learning skills like communication, teamwork and self-expression.

"No matter what you do or what job you have, where you end up, you need to be able to communicate with people, you need to be able to follow through on your ideas," said Kate Baird, museum educator at the Springfield Art Museum. "So there may be no better way to teach those kinds of things than through the arts."

At Willard South, the students' projects taught them those skills and more. They learned about contour lines, the history of music genres and how music and art go hand-in-hand.

"You'd match with the colors of the music and then it would sound good together," said student Lois Lupecscu.

When students saw their mural in action for the first time, they were pretty proud of their work.

"I'm just surprised that we did this," said student Hayden Cook. "Wow."

"You'd walk down the halls and hear, 'oh my gosh, I did that part' and 'look how good this looks' and 'I can't wait to see it all put together', so it was great, great self-esteem building," said Baker.

Students at Willard South will be able to enjoy the mural for a while; teachers say they plan to keep it on display for years to come.