Farnsworth museum, Rockland schools strive to strengthen bond between education, art

Students in Rockland schools are studying their community through a project with the Farnsworth Art Museum.
South School
Students in Rockland schools are studying their community through a project with the Farnsworth Art Museum.
Posted Dec. 23, 2012, at 11:17 a.m.
Students in Rockland schools are studying their community through a project with the Farnsworth Art Museum.
South School
Students in Rockland schools are studying their community through a project with the Farnsworth Art Museum.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The nationally renowned Farnsworth Art Museum and Library has created a close relationship with the Rockland schools to use art to make the community a more livable place.

The Farnsworth has applied for a $150,000 grant to continue and expand that relationship.

If the Farnsworth is awarded the grant — a decision will be made in July — the museum will offer Regional School Unit 13 teachers who teach in Rockland free year-round professional development opportunities in aesthetic education. Specifically, teachers at Rockland District Middle School and the South School will help students connect curriculum with art.

Past and current work between the museum and school have been a great benefit to students, said elementary school teacher Nancy Nickerson of the South School.

The current project has included giving each student a camera and allowing them to take photographs. Each classroom has a different focus including marine shipping and lobstering, the granite industry or as with Nickerson’s class — documenting family history.

“They’re learning the lost art of talking with their elders,” Nickerson said.

She said the project allows the children to do things that get them to believe in themselves.

The Rockland City Council gave its enthusiastic support for the grant at its Dec. 10 meeting. The council voted unanimously to support and partner with the museum on the grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Roger Dell, the director of education for the Farnsworth, said the relationship with the schools has been a great fit.

“We let the children explore and it is amazing what they come up with,” Dell said.

Art can be used in any subject, Dell and Nickerson said.

“Math includes geometry which is about patterns, and that is found within art,” Dell said. “Any topic can find a connection in the art world.”

He said students also can examine paintings and analyze it and investigate its meaning. Investigation is a key to the study of science and math, Dell said.

The project also will focus specifically on the history of Rockland through a study of occupations such as lobstering, granite and limestone quarrying.

“In close collaboration, the museum and the teachers will develop a broad curricular project in which students explore and document Rockland’s history and local environment,” according to a letter from the Farnsworth’s development officer Kit Stone to the city council.

Museum educators, assisted by professional artist mentors, will spend several days a week throughout the school year demonstrating to teachers a variety of teaching-through-the-arts strategies by directly interacting with students and guiding their creative choices, where they may choose among photography, film, music, literature or the fine arts as their creative tool.

Students will also be brought to the museum free of charge for docent-led tours and hands-on gallery activities to reinforce and enhance what they learned in the classroom. The museum will also pay for transportation costs for the students.

At the end of each of the next three school years, the students work would be presented to the public at the historic Strand Theatre in downtown Rockland and then put on display in Farnsworth galleries. Video and film creations will be shown at the Farnsworth auditorium.

That was done in the past year with films shown at the museum and exhibits on display for the public.

In its statement in support of the Farnsworth grant, which is being submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts, Mayor William Clayton stated that the city is proud to have a world-class museum such as the Farnsworth in Rockland.

“The Farnsworth has been central to the city of Rockland for 65 years, providing broad access to the arts for this small but important community in midcoast Maine,” Clayton stated in his letter.

He said the project between the museum and Rockland schools will strengthen the community and “sustain the community’s vitality through its future citizens.”

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