By Kristen Heintz-Perkins, Director / Institutional Grants at MassArt • Photography courtesy of Amy Fink
Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), the nation’s first public art and design school, has since its founding advocated for access to and equity in art and art education. As part of its longstanding public mission, MassArt’s doors are always open to the underserved communities and in particular, to young people and their families in these communities.
MassArt offers an excellent and relevant education for motivated artists and designers regardless of their ability to pay; the college’s focus on scholarships ensures that students of all backgrounds are granted access to MassArt’s services and opportunities. The college’s innovative youth programs have provided access to relevant contemporary art to its neighboring communities and beyond for over 80 years.
A report commissioned for Boston Creates notes that “While many Bostonians feel immense pride in, and connection to, their cultural heritage, they very often do not see their communities or artistic traditions represented or supported… Particularly among the city’s communities of color, residents report difficulty in accessing Boston’s arts and cultural riches. Youth, especially, are unsure about which institutions they are welcome, or in which creative settings they are meant to be included. Many feel that certain cultural venues and events in the city are ‘not for them.” MassArt’s youth programming actively works to diversify art and design in Boston while creating opportunities for engagement on MassArt’s active and well-resourced campus.
MassArt engages area youth and works to diversify art and design in Boston through three main avenues: Gallery Education, Youth Programs, and Artward Bound.
The Bakalar & Paine Galleries present at least four professional exhibitions annually and offer a variety of Gallery Education offerings, drawing approximately 10,000 visitors. Open to the public six days a week, the Galleries are the largest free contemporary exhibition space in New England and present exhibitions that comprise challenging work and address socially relevant issues. Public programming in the Galleries includes Family Day, a biannual event bringing community members into the Galleries for interactive activities related to exhibitions on view. All Gallery Education programs are always free of charge and open to the public, often serving as the portal that welcomes the community to campus.
Looking to Learn, MassArt’s visual arts education program for 4th-12thBoston Public School students brings urban youth into the Galleries and supplements art education often lacking in BPS curriculum. Looking to Learn promotes visual awareness and critical thinking skills through inquiry-based classroom discussions, group projects and presentations, visits to the Galleries, and art-making projects related to the gallery exhibitions.
MassArt’s Youth Programs offer several programs throughout the summer and academic year for students in grades 3-12 from area schools. Youth Programs offers intensive vacation week instruction, Summer Studios, portfolio development, and Saturday Studios classes, exposing students to many mediums and art-making methods. MassArt strives to keep the cost of all Youth Programs within reach and awards $100,000 in scholarships each year. More than 900 students participated in Youth Programs over the last year, with over 40% receiving scholarships.
Artward Bound is MassArt’s free 4-year program that prepares 9th – 12th-grade students in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) interested in visual arts and design with the artistic and academic skills needed for admission to and success at college. With its mission to serve Boston students who are from low-income, first generation to college families, Artward Bound addresses issues of equity and social justice through its foundation in the arts.
Students are recruited into the program in 9thgrade and spend all summer and several days per week during the academic year on campus. Classes build foundational artistic techniques and practices in 2D and 3D art-making and principles of design; provide a context for socially engaged art and opportunities for community service-learning projects; and develops college-ready art portfolios. As students age the program also includes progressive opportunities for stipends, community engagement, dual enrollment in college courses at MassArt, and mentorships in professional settings. Should Artward Bound graduates enroll in MassArt, they receive continued support throughout their college career. Through knowledge about the viability of a career in the arts coupled with the importance of a college education, students become advocates for themselves and are able to visualize success in college and a career in the arts.
MassArt’s youth engagement programs have set the standard for many years with innovative and adaptive options designed to support students from elementary to high school and beyond while maintaining accessibility to and equity in the art and design fields. We are proud that these and other targeted outreach programs fulfill our mission of providing an excellent art and design education regardless of a family’s’ ability to pay. The freshmen class at MassArt this fall will include 30% minorities, the largest of any incoming class. We accomplish this by having a comprehensive set of programs and initiatives that reach young people and their families at multiple times in their development. When students and community members interact and learn in the Galleries, make art in Youth Programs, or discover a pathway to college through Artward Bound, they are empowered as cultural citizens with increased confidence, interpersonal skills, judgment and research experience, and they also gain exposure to career and lifelong learning opportunities.