Growing up as a kid in Madrid, Spain, I clearly remember my art classes in school. I was not a very good draftsman or painter, and even though I had fun and learned a lot from art activities, I doubt I produced anything memorable. Early on in my life, I knew that becoming an artist was not the path I was called to walk. I do remember, however, excelling in art history, learning all the stories related to works of art by artists over many centuries, and easily understanding the meaning of them. I was good at reading the language of art. Making art and understanding it are very different activities of the mind.
My school in Madrid, unfortunately, did not take us to the great museums in the city. We did not have field trips to the Prado Museum or the Reina Sofia (the museum of contemporary art)! In my time, visiting museums was more a family activity -- I have images of my childhood running around the galleries with my parents and siblings during the weekends. It has been a while since I left Spain, and I hope the situation has changed. The education system there can learn a lot about the work the U.S. museums do for schools, especially for K-12 students, and the DIA is certainly a leader in this arena.
Providing school field trips is a critical aspect of our mission. Last year (FY 17-18) we welcomed and worked with around 73,500 students and their teachers from metro Detroit. This constitutes a significant increase from 67,500 students we served in FY16-17 and the highest number of students the DIA has ever served in a given year in the museum's entire history. Almost 68,000 of those students were residents of Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties and so we also provided them with free bus transportation and free admission to our world-class museum. Our current partnership with our supportive tri-county area and the very generous millage from which the museum benefits have helped the DIA to significantly expand our ability to provide free field trips to students. In fact, before the inception of the 2012 millage, in FY11-12, the DIA welcomed only around 39,000 students compared to this past fiscal year’s record high of 73,500. This evolution is extraordinary.
It is not only the quantity, but the quality of our field trips that matter. We are very interested in understanding how these museum visits benefit the social, emotional, and cognitive abilities of our students. For example, I have always been interested in how these field trips to the DIA and the programs that we provide can help develop the creativity and/or the problem-solving skills of our students. Our goal is not necessarily trying to turn our students into a Picasso or a Basquiat but to help them develop their creative skills and be better prepared to manage the social, emotional, and cognitive challenges and opportunities of life. Even just one visit to a museum can be very helpful in this effort. And for those who are interested, on October 13, the DIA will host the National Art Education Association (NAEA) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) for a one-day symposium in Detroit, at which we will explore the impact of single-visit art museum visits on school children.
I am sure the symposium will provide new insights into the quality and impact of our work. In the meantime, we continue to receive thank you letters from teachers and students that encourage our service to the community and provide amazing personal reward to our dedicated teams. In a recent visit, a student wrote: “Thank you for the wonderful experience... the artist I would love to meet is Pablo Picasso. My favorite part was the 3D pictures in the dark room (She is referring to our new work on view, a group of Holograms by Louise Bourgeois, gift of Nora and Guy Barron). I am thrilled to go back. I love the DIA.” During the summer we continue to welcome students and their families to participate in our engaging family programs in our Wayne and Joan Webber Education Wing and throughout the museum, as well as invite them to see our new show, Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume, which brings adventures, art, creativity, film, and costume design together. Enjoy the rest of the summer, enjoy your DIA and may the power of art be with you.