Reaching Out in Georgia - Georgia Museum of Art

At the Georgia Museum of Art, outreach programs transcend traditional art history lectures, instead focusing on audience participation and the unique perspectives diverse audience members bring to conversations. The museum, associated with the University of Georgia (UGA), considers itself to be an academic museum, rather than an institution that merely collects and displays artworks. For the museum, the main goal is for the public to interact and engage with art, a goal with particular relevance given the museum’s title as the official art museum for the state of Georgia. As an institution focused on education, the museum has put into effect several outreach programs, extending its audience beyond its walls to residents around the state. In fact, the museum stresses that its tours give back to the community, and all tours are free.

Photos Courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art Photos Courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art

The Adopt-A-Bus program, which welcomes and serves a school-aged audience (from kindergarten through high school), features gallery and studio activities. This program allows for private individuals to provide funding for bus transportation to the museum for school groups outside Athens-Clarke County. For its targeted rural demographic students, who have limited resources and would otherwise be unable to visit their state museum of art, the program is a key component to the museum’s statewide service.

Another travel-based outreach program featured at the museum is Suitcase Tours, inspired by Alfred Heber Holbrook, the museum's founder, who took his collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings throughout Georgia in his “Artmobile” and shared these works with schools and communities around the state. This program is tailored specifically for grades K-3 and features reproductions of the works of five artists from the permanent collection. Students learn about the elements of art and gain a better understanding of how to look and talk about art, through a discussion of these paintings and related hands-on activities.

Photo Courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art Photo Courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art

Several programs illustrate the institution’s unique role within the state of Georgia. The museum's Fifth Grade tours, which were created due to the generosity of a private donor, ensure that every fifth-grader in Athens-Clarke County visits the museum as part of the school curriculum. The program's success has created a model for a larger effort by the University of Georgia to bring Athens-Clarke County school students onto the university campus. In addition to this program, local artists who represent the best that Georgia has to offer are highlighted in the Just My Imagination program, in which groups of children aged 7 to 14 are sent on a meaningful exploration into the imaginative side of art at an off-site location. This workshop is usually offered on Saturdays and is sponsored by the Turner Family Foundation in memory of Nancy C. Turner. Workshops include Watercolors from Apples to Zebras; Printmaking and Ink Painting; Furry, Fluffy, Felt Fun; and Drawing Plants, Flowers and Other Natural Objects.

The museum also offers outreach programs and workshops tailored to adult audiences and families. Its Senior Outreach Program brings student volunteers and museum staff members to senior citizen centers and nursing homes in Athens-Clarke, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Elbert and Green counties. These programs comprise three components: an introductory slide presentation, a museum visit and a hands-on activity.

Courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art Courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art

Beyond serving these groups, the museum brings generations together through its family programs. Every month the museum offers Family Days, which include a gallery activity and tour of an exhibition followed by a hands-on art activity in the classroom. The program is designed to educate families about the current exhibitions on view at the museum and acquaint them with the world of fine art. With its Backpack Tours, families and children may check out a backpack full of supplies and activities that will enhance their walk through the museum with kid-oriented and educational elements. Inside every pack are four folders, which contain the materials necessary to complete an activity relating to a work of art or artist in the museum’s permanent collection.

In conjunction with one of its current exhibitions, Creating Memories and Sharing Stories: The Art of Carroll Cloar, the museum is offering a class, "Engaging Art Museum Audiences as Student Docents," which incorporates the exhibition into its methods. Under the instruction of Carissa DiCindio, the museum's Curator of Education, who is also a new faculty member at UGA, students in this class also participate in a service-learning experience in order to gain perspective on the ways tours can give back to the community. For this semester, the class created a program called “Creating Memories and Sharing Stories: The Art of Carroll Cloar;” in an effort to engage visitors, the event invited grandparents and grandchildren to explore the work of Carroll Cloar together, as well as to create their own art using similar techniques. Participants were encouraged to use symbols in their art to tell stories about their families. Students designed the art project to reflect their goals of creating an active audience sharing personal experiences. It was a great opportunity to reach out to the community and provide interesting, meaningful art-themed programming.

The Georgia Museum of Art is open to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 5 pm, Thursdays from 10am to 9 pm, and Sundays from 1 to 5pm. Each docent-led tour is specifically tailored to a group's particular needs and interests. The museum centers its work on the belief that every visitor should have an enjoyable experience, encourages questions, and offers free admission to its galleries, reflecting a true commitment to its role in Georgia and beyond.

Keah Fryar is the Plinth contributor for the Southern Region and a Freelance Exhibit Designer and Consultant.  Her website can be viewed here: