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Norton’s after-school program takes art into community

Thousands of people come to the Norton Museum of Art to experience culture and creativity at its finest. But the museum also brings art to the community — and to students in particular — with its after-school program.

The Afterschool Arts Outreach program — which provides teachers and supplies for about 600 kids ages 5-18 in underserved areas of the county — was recently named one of 50 finalists for the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

Those involved with the Norton’s 26-year-old after-school program have another reason to be proud — a recently completed evaluation shows that participants not only discover new talents but boost their self-confidence.

The program, which is held in seven locations throughout the county, offers students a chance to tour the museum for free; learn about arts-integrated history, music and literature and visual arts; and create their own masterpieces.

In the process, they learn, among other things, to think critically; handle challenges; formulate solutions; and analyze, evaluate and validate their peers’ work.

It also offers a summer component. This year, students are learning about architecture at the after-school venues, which include the Farmworker Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County in Lake Worth, Florence De George Boys & Girls Club in Northwood and Highridge Family Center in West Palm Beach.

“This eight-week program explores architecture from the past, the present, and the kids will design the future,” says Yimarie Rivera, Afterschool Arts Outreach’s director.

“The architecture program consists of structural building challenges, art and design activities, and specialized architecture field trips to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, FAU School of Architecture and behind-the-scenes tour of the Norton expansion project.”

The participants’ architectural visions will be on exhibit through Oct. 28 at the Norton.

The evaluation, financed with a grant from the Celia Lipton Farris and Victor W. Farris Foundation, was designed to determine, among other things, the program’s effect on participants and their families.

“We suggested the evaluation because we wanted to further strengthen the program and more effectively communicate the program’s results to partners and funders,” explains Jon Wemette, Norton’s senior development officer for institutional giving.

Glenn Tomlinson, the head of the museum’s education department, adds, “This evaluation was important because we had an outside (objective) evaluator come in to the program to assess its strengths.”

Conducted by Dr. Martha A. Brown, an author, evaluator, and president and founder of RJAE Consulting in Delray Beach – it shows that After Artschool Outreach has a very positive effect on participants, fostering youth development and art skills.

“It provides a significant after-school arts experience that affords a safe, consistent and structured environment for children who have minimal exposure to the arts,” Brown notes in her evaluation. “Afterschool Arts Outreach teaching artists are dynamic, caring role models who help their students develop confidence through the process of making and displaying their own artistic creations.”

She notes in her summary: “Children and teens believed that the program helped them to accept making mistakes, feel better about themselves, talk to adults and teachers, work cooperatively with peers, and be proud of their artwork, all indicators of self-efficacy. The evaluation also produced strong evidence that the program has a very positive impact on students’ learning about art. When asked, most students said that the classes make them feel creative and give them opportunities to express themselves.”

Students and their parents were interviewed for the evaluation — and “students reported that they valued the opportunity to express themselves through art more than anything else.”

The evaluation was validating for Rivera. “

We will continue to stay true to our mission of developing arts programming that expands students’ world view by exposing youth to multicultural and arts-integrated history, music and literature as well as to the visual arts, while creating an authentic platform that elevates youth voice,” she says.

In the fall, students in the program will learn from the work of artist Justin Brice Guariglia in an exhibition called “Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene.”

“This exhibition will encourage young people in the Afterschool Arts Outreach program to create meaningful works of art about how humans are directly and indirectly impacting the planet, which is a core mission of Earth Works,” notes Rivera.

Brown sums it all up: “Afterschool Arts Outreach is indeed a sound and effective program. It relies heavily upon dedicated, talented, and effective teaching artists to ensure that program objectives are being met.”

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