Accessibility to art requires that art is within reach. This not only means it is comprehendible to all audiences but in certain instances, it means it is also geographically accessible. The Art Lives Here//El Arte Vive Aquí program, managed by Hannah Craft, manager of school & community programs in the Learning and Engagement department, goes above and beyond to ensure that communities across the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) who cannot access the DAM remain in touch with art.
Created in 2017, Art Lives Here provides customizable mini-exhibit installations to communities that fall within 15 miles of the DAM. These customizable traveling exhibitions reside in a community for about a month and offer an interactive supplement to reinforce community engagement, curiosity, and empathy. There are two collections available for exhibit, Past and Present: Indigenous Arts of North America and Outside In: Contemporary Landscapes.
In addition to the exhibition, Art Lives Here also facilitates artmaking workshops, Creativity Kits, and professional development for audiences. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the department also designed Creativity Kits with local artists that explored themes in these exhibitions. These kits, catered to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences, provided access to art supplies for schools and community centers serving elementary and middle school children and families around the metro area.
The installed version of the program provides educators a menu of discussion topics, art pieces, and objects that can complement their teaching objectives. And because the exhibitions installed are catered to each community, the materials are relatable, engaging, and encouraging of intergenerational and intercultural discussion.
"All of the artists chosen are super intentional (gender expressions, ethnic backgrounds, age, etc.) and catered to the audience. We provide guiding questions to help students discuss issues of identity, environmentalism, social justice, and how the past affects the future," Craft stated.
Educators in underserved communities praise Art Lives Here for the creative complement to their curriculum. This program encourages students to see themselves in the art, other artists, and develop relevant critical thinking skills.
The Denver Art Museum recognizes the importance of nurturing young creative minds, and without access to facilities that promote that, kids can miss out on an important aspect of intellectual and artistic development. Craft is passionate about ensuring that community centers and K–5 schools that lack funding or physical access to art programs and museums should not be deprived of a curious, creative, and engaging childhood. Encouraging participation of children in discussions that questioned their position in the 21st century became that much more relevant when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020. Teachers who once relished the jolt of creative energy that Art Lives Here provided found themselves longing for an artistic outlet for their virtual classes and students who were stuck inside for the summer. This is where the Creativity Kits became the unsung hero in a world locked down.
In just the beginning of the pandemic, over 800 kits were distributed to community centers in and around Denver. The kits supplied elementary aged students with scissors, construction paper, glue, watercolors, modeling clay, and the works. They also provided four free adult tickets to the museum. During fall 2020, more than 3,000 kits were distributed to Title 1 public and charter schools across all seven SCFD counties with 75% of the schools that requested and received these kits having never partnered with the museum before.
Craft’s new objective is to pick up where they left off. Art Lives Here relaunched the exhibition program in the beginning of the 2021 school year at Mount Saint Vincent, a mental health center for children and their families. Future goals to increase accessibility and inclusion involve translating all written content to four prominent languages spoken in Colorado (besides English and Spanish)—Arabic, Korean, Somali, and Vietnamese. Craft and her team would like to work with schools and the museum’s Youth & Family Advisory Group to acquire new objects for the Art Lives Here collection to ensure more representation, diversity, and art media.
Feedback from educators revealed that Creativity Kits were an essential COVID-related need that might have otherwise been cut from the schools’ budget. In this most unprecedented time, Art Lives Here and Creativity Kits dismantled financial and accessibility barriers, providing a little hope, a little color, and a little fun as the pandemic unfolded.
To learn more about how you can apply to host an Art Lives Here//El arte vive aquí (ALH) exhibition or receive Creativity Kits to your Title 1 K–5 school or community center, please contact the Learning and Engagement department at firstname.lastname@example.org.