How can schools and museums team up to give students agency and deepen their engagement with history?
This was the question Maryland Humanities posed in a podcast entitled, "Deepening Student Engagement with History Through Art." The podcast featured a recent collaboration between Sandy Spring Museum and the Barnesville School of Arts and Sciences that resulted in a student exhibit entitled, “Honoring Our Past, Celebrating the Future."
Based on the premise that artists can be inspired by the past, Middle School students spent a “Collaborative Day” visiting the Museum as inspiration for a future art exhibit. Fifth through eighth graders explored a variety of objects from the museum’s collection, ranging from newspaper publications and handwritten correspondence to clothing, daguerreotypes (an early form of photographs), and athletic gear. Items were selected to represent four notable people from Sandy Spring’s past: suffragist Mary Bentley Thomas, baseball player Jack Bentley, postmaster and bank founder Alban Gilpin Thomas, and free black, shingle maker Remus Q. Hill.
The Museum’s Marketing Director, Lauren Peirce explained, "We took down the proverbial velvet ropes and opened the doors to collections storage to allow students an up-close experience with the artifacts. The students visited the Museum in November where they learned how to safely handle museum objects. By entrusting them to carefully interact directly with historical collections and providing the tools to do so, the students were empowered to connect with material culture in ways that were largely inaccessible to them before."
Students were then invited to create artwork inspired by the items specifically or the field trip experience generally. The resulting artwork ranges from directly referencing the museum’s collection to tangentially relating to the the physical space the museum inhabits.
"This partnership with Sandy Spring Museum melds beautifully with Barnesville School’s emphasis on cross-curricular education. The experience was designed to have students explore the idea that artists can be inspired by history," said Barnesville's Art Teacher, Sarah Eargle.
The exhibit, which also includes a collaborative weaving completed by EC-8th graders, was open to the public throughout the month of January, with a pre-closing reception for the community taking place February 2.