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The Art of the Matter

Families Can Learn Together at New Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

By Hilary DeMillo • Arkansas Children's Hospital

The opening of the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has been hotly anticipated across the nation for several years. It's situated in northwest Arkansas, which means that families will have a tremendous resource close by for educating their children about language arts, social studies and visual arts.

The museum opened in early November and shortly after its grand opening, children in Arkansas began streaming through Crystal Bridges to learn about the American artists represented in its collection. Classes, workshops and pre-school programs are already in the works, according to Niki Ciccotelli Stewart, director of education at Crystal Bridges Museum.

In fact, children throughout the state will be able to tour the museum on school trips at no cost, thanks to a $10 million grant that created the Willard & Pat Walker School Visits
Program. The grant will provide schools with financial assistance to cover the cost of transportation, healthy lunches and funding for substitute teachers. Interested teachers will also have access to materials they can use to educate their students about American art and Crystal Bridges before their field trips.

"We are passionate at Crystal Bridges about helping families and children learn together and about expanding their worlds," Ciccotelli Stewart said. "Whether for scholarship, for pleasure or for inspiration, cultivating an interest in the arts is something that can only enrich a person's life, at any age."

Parents who home-school also will find helpful resources at Crystal Bridges Museum. A Home-School Friday program is in the works that will provide opportunities for viewing the galleries, as well as for art-making. Crystal Bridges will offer lessons that can help these families connect to their rest of their curriculum, whether as part of larger home-schooling associations or as individual families.

"These students, who often are learning in mixed-age groups or with other families, will become inspired by what they see around them," Ciccotelli Stewart said.

What if you want to take your own kids to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art - outside of a field trip, simply as a family outing? There are plenty of great options for this kind of visit, as well. And for at least the next five years, general admission to the museum will also be free, thanks to an endowment from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Even without a reservation, families will be able to participate in on-site programs through a discovery cart that will be out at selected times. The museum will also make available family totes that you can check out. These are stocked with a variety of activities designed to encourage kids to look more closely at the art exhibits and give deeper meaning to family discussions about the works they see. A full listing of other family resources and
programs will be available soon on the museum's website at

The museum's campus is a great outing, too, because it was created with more than three miles of walking trails that lead to "historic and picturesque locations." These are nestled among 120-plus acres of natural Ozark beauty.

Before you go, you can tell your children about some of the artworks they'll recognize. Show them old posters of Rosie the Riveter to talk about Norman Rockwell, whose original painting inspired them. Discuss famous illustrations of our nation's first president so they'll know George Washington, the familiar rendering by Charles Willson Peale.

"By visiting Crystal Bridges," Ciccotelli Stewart said, "and learning more about American Art, the artists who made them and the time in which they were made, parents can begin that dialogue with children and learn more together."

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