Art for All, Everywhere

Friday, I visited the one-room Pass Creek School, 22 miles north of Bozeman, at the invitation of Allison McGree, the teaching artist of the Art Mobile of Montana.

The Art Mobile of Montana mission is "to provide a permanent statewide traveling art
outreach program for schools, the general public, and diverse groups; offer presentations of quality, original art exhibits, teach art lessons, extend teacher education, and emphasize the importance of art and relate to art in a personal way."

I'm an artist, and an art lover. I appreciate the expertise and expression of artists, in all media. And best of all, the Art Mobile of Montana brings art to students statewide, fostering new artists and inspiring art from them. And in tough times, schools make sure they're providing the keys of education, so many do not have art programs now.

Art Mobile of Montana, based now in Bozeman, "provides a traveling art outreach program for those with less access to the visual arts. Targeting students and underserved areas such as Indian reservations, Art Mobile provides not only collections of original works of art but also quality art lessons and teacher workshops in art education."

Allison McGree, the artist/teacher, sets up the traveling display. The artists featured in Art Mobile are primarily Montanan artists. These artists, whose works speak to the rich, visual legacy of the West, are well received by the mostly rural audiences that Art Mobile visits.

When the paintings, drawings, ceramic, leather, and woven art was arranged, Allison asked students to select works of art that interested or appealed to them. Then she described the artist, subject, media, and technique, and compared works of art that express the same subject (mountain landscapes, for instance) but use very different styles (abstract versus literal). Students learned key elements of art: the difference between abstract and 'concrete' art, the diversity of media (it's not just pencils and paper), and two- and three-dimensional art (length and width, depth). It was great to see the students work out the distinguishing elements of the pieces.

Students then participate, making art, in a range of media from printmaking to watercolor to pastels. The art exercise is often related to art works in the exhibits. On Friday, some ledger art from Native Americans was presented, and the art-making was on ledger art.

Ledger art are pictures drawn and painted on ledger pages by Native Americans. Their narrative in ledger art includes pictures of Indians crossing the prairie on horses, battles with other tribes or US soldiers, Native American kids going to reservation schools; the LedgerBook of Thomas Blue Eagle was a featured text on Friday, and it is stunning.

I was so pleased to see the Art Mobile of Montana and Allison McGree in action. The students and teacher of Pass Creek School were wholly engaged in the visit; it was inspiring to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the kids in their desire to create.

More on the Art Mobile of Montana:

In 2007, Sally Williamson, the then-artist/teacher of the Art Mobile, traveled 13,000 miles across Montana and worked with more than 6,000 kids who would never have the opportunity to see and learn about art. In 2003-2004, Art Mobile traveled to 70 sites in 27 counties, reaching 7,256 individuals, mostly students. In FY 2004, Art Mobile received an NEA Challenge America grant of $12,000 for its 2004-2005 activities. During the year, Art Mobile visited 55 sites in Montana (including the state’s seven Indian reservations), reaching just about every area of the state, and serving nearly 7,000 people.

The Art Mobile of Montana receives grants for its annual operating budget. A basic two-hour art mobile visit includes one presentation and one art lesson and costs $165.00. Travel costs are additional, divided among the number of sites presented during one tour.

The Art Mobile is a non-profit organization and is supported in part by a grant from the Montana Arts Council (an agency of state government) and by the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. Funding is also received from Montana's Cultural Trust.

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