Art Goes To School, and I Go with It

Beth Karn presents Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party to a 4th grade class at Nether Providence Elementary School.

By Beth Karn

After a decade of dedicating myself almost exclusively to family and my work-from-home job, I came out of a sleep-deprived blur a few years ago and took stock of my interests (did I have those anymore?) and my hobbies (none). I decided it was time to do a little something for me.

I felt ready to venture forth into the gratifying world of volunteerism. School and community were logical and convenient options, more appealing now that my kids were all in elementary school. I tried a few things that didn’t feel like a good fit. I was helping someone do something but it just didn’t scratch “the itch.”

A friend mentioned Art Goes to School. An entirely volunteer-run art appreciation program that has existed for 55 years, Art Goes to School serves the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District up until the 7th grade, as well as doing outreach in the wider community. I liked the idea, but would I be able to do it?

The first obstacle I placed in front of myself was my lack of formal art education. The start and end of my art training was Art History 101 circa 1990. I was reassured that formal art training was not a prerequisite, and that I needed only to love art and be willing to learn. Learning! That was novel. I hadn’t done that in a long time. So long that it actually sounded intimidating.

The second obstacle I put up was that I lacked the time to make a true commitment. Nevertheless, I accepted an invitation to attend a Tuesday morning meeting at Swarthmore Borough Hall. A friendly group of women (men are welcome to participate but none are currently in our ranks) gathered a few minutes early to chat with old friends and introduce themselves to newcomers like me. All were invited to enjoy coffee or tea and a baked good someone brought (one part of the routine I really enjoy). Everyone settled in a seat before longtime leader, Mimi Haggerty, started firing off items on her agenda. The group was fun, friendly, and knew how to get things done. I could tell I was going to enjoy this. After a few meetings and observing a presenter in a 2nd grade classroom, I was inspired, and my concern about making a time commitment vanished.

Each semester we have a new portfolio with roughly eight prints of artworks. Members do independent research on these and report back to the group. We discuss the art, the artists, and how to present them to children of various ages. In four years with Art Goes to School, I have been consistently delighted at the degree of insight, enthusiasm, and participation from the students we reach.

Art Goes to School offers a refreshing departure from my work sifting through Excel spreadsheets, devouring ratings and impressions data. And it offers me the opportunity to interact with a great many fun, smart, and curious children, not to mention adults.

It’s amazing how you make time for something you really want to do. If you love art and are looking for a volunteer outlet, please come to one of our meetings. Call Mimi Haggerty at (610) 565-0138 and visit artgoestoschool.org.

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