Grant supports middle-school outreach at Museum of Art

The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation of New York City has granted $150,000 to support the Thousand Words Project, a middle-school outreach program at the Bates College Museum of Art.

The program helps students better comprehend parallels between writing and making art. Using museum visits and the museum’s Web site, classes write criticism, essays, poetry and other materials that reflect their responses to the art or link the art with their studies in various fields.

“It’s a collaboration with local teachers where we provide resources and a framework for them to use our exhibitions and collections,” said museum education coordinator Anthony Shostak. “We believe that it’s a way that students can understand the interconnectedness not just between writing and art, but between all disciplines.”

Launched in 1996, the initiative is the museum’s flagship outreach project. About 100 students from the Lewiston-Auburn region took part in the program during the 2004-05 academic year.

The Sharp grant will provide four years of operating funds for the program, at $25,000 per year. The remaining $50,000 will be used to start an endowment for the program, but is contingent on the museum’s raising an equal amount in matching funds by Dec. 1.

An endowment will give the Thousand Words Project “a permanence that it might not otherwise have,” Shostak explained. That means that the community “can feel confident that we can build these connections and they won’t fall apart in a few years because of lack of funding.”

In fact, building connections is integral to the Thousand Words Project — connections between art and writing, between students and the arts, between the college and the schools, and between the college and other community organizations.

The local arts agency L/A Arts has acted as a liaison between Bates and local schools and made the project part of its pioneering work with the schools in visual literacy. “The work with L/A Arts is really crucial,” Shostak said. “Their very long relationship with our community puts even more weight behind this offering.”

“For many students, visiting an art museum for the first time can be pretty intimidating,” said Jen Ryan, the agency’s arts-in-education coordinator. “The Bates-L/A Arts program offers them the tools they need for a meaningful and fun museum experience. Our partnership with Bates introduces them to a free local resource that, we hope, they’ll continue to use throughout their lives.”

A Lewiston native, Shostak has worked at the museum since 1993. “I’m personally very dedicated to making connections with the public schools because I grew up here, and I know what it was like before the museum was here,” he said. “I really wanted something like this. It’s so gratifying to have a student tell me that they never knew this museum was here, but now they’re going to visit every show that we have.”

By establishing enduring relationships with local educators, he added, “we see the museum as a way the college can really make lasting contributions to its community.”

The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation was established in 1984 to extend its founder’s interests in education and the arts, primarily but not exclusively in New York City. It has supported education, the performing and visual arts, medical research and environmental efforts. Reflecting Peter Sharp’s own approach to business and philanthropy, the foundation aims to support cutting-edge initiatives while honoring tradition.

Founded in 1955 as the Treat Gallery, the Bates College Museum of Art occupied its present quarters in the new Olin Arts Center in 1986. Now reflecting artists of widespread significance from Maine and increasingly the world, its collection began with a donation of priceless materials representing the prominent American modernist Marsden Hartley, a Lewiston native.

The museum is a laboratory for the visual arts. Its goal is to create synergy with the campus, the community and the art world through exhibitions, scholarly programs, educational outreach and involvement across the Bates curriculum.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is closed major holidays. For exhibition and other information, please visit the museum Web site.

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Education coordinator Anthony Shostak works with local students visiting the art museum.

The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation of New York City has granted $150,000 to support the Thousand Words Project, a middle-school outreach program at the Bates College Museum of Art.

The program helps students better comprehend parallels between writing and making art. Using museum visits and the museum’s Web site, classes write criticism, essays, poetry and other materials that reflect their responses to the art or link the art with their studies in various fields.

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