Art is especially good for young students, according to the first large-scale, randomized-control study to measure what students learn from school tours of art museums. Reported in Education Next, the study shows that students exposed to museums, galleries and performing arts centers display better critical thinking skills and education memory — along with greater tolerance, historical understanding and other attributes we all want instilled in our children and grandchildren.
Interviewed about his study recently in Fast Company magazine, Jay P. Greene, from the University of Arkansas, said the changes in aptitude and attitude “were measurable and significant.”
Unfortunately, this new appreciation of the role art plays in a student’s decision-making skills comes at a time when the American Association of School Administrators reports a steep drop in school tours of art museums.
And in schools such as those in the Treasure Valley, which has a thriving arts scene and the educational and cultural anchor of the wonderful Boise Art Museum but no access to a big city museum, students may never experience the world’s greatest art treasures.
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If Boise State’s plan for a new 90,000-square-foot Center for the Fine Arts becomes a reality, students in elementary and secondary classrooms across the Treasure Valley will have a new and critically important window to the world of art. This cultural hub will include our acclaimed Department of Art, student and faculty galleries and studios, classrooms, library facilities and some world-class opportunities for students of all ages to improve their critical thinking skills.
It will house a World Museum to transport students to art galleries across the globe so they can see first-hand the role art has played in civilization. This new high-tech and interactive space will employ the latest virtual reality technology developed on our campus so students in Boise can tour the Louvre in Paris, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain — all in one day. Imagine students taking a virtual tour of Michelangelo’s Pietà as though they were there in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Here technology will truly intersect with the arts, and the experience we can provide to students of all ages will be richer for it.
National Endowment for the Arts Chairwoman Jane Chu visited campus recently to meet two Boise State researchers investigating the vital relationships between universities and the “creative clusters” that drive both the arts and the high-tech sectors. As the Idaho Statesman reported then, “A university in the heart of a city strengthens cultural life and boosts the local economy.”
I am confident that we are creating what will become a nationally recognized center for visual arts education. It will create a space for the highest level of scholarship and creativity as well as a place that can offer a glimmer of what’s possible when a door to the arts is opened to a child for the first time.
With generous support from the state and a challenge grant from a national foundation, we are on our way to what will be one of Boise’s architectural icons on Capitol Boulevard. However, the challenge grant requires us to seek matching donations from the community.
We encourage patrons of the arts and others to consider supporting this effort to strengthen the cultural life of Boise, as the Statesman so aptly put it. Together, we can reach into the next generation of students, who will then take this place we call home into a future where the role of the arts is appreciated as an integral part of our daily lives.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University.