For new LaGrange Art Museum director Karen Briggs, nurturing creativity is key to museum’s role in the community.
“A lot of people in the community don’t understand that creative thought … has to be nurtured throughout your life,” she said. “The art museum is a place for creative thought, a place to explore ideas, and I want people to realize and understand that art touches everybody’s life everywhere, and visual arts touches everybody’s life everywhere.
“If you go to a job in a workplace in a company that has a corporate logo, or you wear a pair of designer shoes, or you live in an architecturally designed home – each of those things has come from someone, a talented designer whose beginning was in a visual arts world. The people who designed your home, that designed your clothes, that designed your shoes, that designed your logo – they started off as kids at art camp. If we didn’t have the opportunity to understand creative thought and creative expression, those things wouldn’t happen.”
Making the museum the facilitator for nurturing creative growth in children is her goal. Briggs, who was initially brought on as a consultant for the museum about a year ago, wants to make sure it gets there.
“I want the museum to be a living, breathing part of daily life here,” Briggs said. “Everything that we’re doing from this point forward is designed to make the art museum relevant.”
To Briggs, the programs for the next year will focus on bringing the museum back to the public eye as an integral part of the community.
“One of the things that’s driving our programming mix is an attitude of responsibility, and an attitude of service and acknowledgement that this is a community-held asset, and as an asset, we serve our constituents,” said Briggs. “We serve the public, we serve the donors, we serve the tax payers, we serve a variety of elements in the community. So, as a result, our programming needs to reflect that stewardship.”
Two years ago there were few classes being offered at the museum, Briggs said, but interest and attendance has gone up significantly since new classes, camps and programs started last year. This summer, classes filled up quickly with about 50 children enrolled, compared to only 10 last year, Briggs said. New adult classes also have drawn interest from the public, filling quickly with more than a month until the first one begins.
The museum recently held its second annual Mess Fest, an “opportunity for children to make a mess and get creative,” but this year also took on a new angle. As part of the activities, children conducted a scavenger hunt for items shown in pieces inside the museum. The activity helps get children’s attention on the artwork and how to see the art and its elements, Briggs said.
Also, children at Mess Fest had the opportunity to sell their artwork at auction to the highest bidder. The funds raised from the sale of their art go toward scholarship program Krayons for Kids that will pay the way for underprivileged children at next summer’s program.
“So the kids that are coming to camp are selling their art this summer to raise money for their peers and colleagues who could otherwise not afford to come to camp next summer,” Briggs said. “It’s philanthropy starting at an early age.”
Museum officials have been working with Troup County schools on incorporating art into teachers’ core curriculum, like math, geometry, history and social studies. The museum also is finding ways to incorporate core curriculum into its exhibits.
One piece Briggs pointed to was “Museum Scape” by Benny Andrews, an African-American artist and son of a middle Georgia sharecropper that rose to become the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The picture is a classic example of perspective, showing figures along a deep interior of a museum.
The piece is part of the multi-unit Our Town: Art, Textile and Science exhibit, which was developed to enforce fifth-grade level units of study, and is based on LaGrange’s history and relationship to the textile industry. Another example of the museum and school system working to incorporate art into classrooms is a teacher who gave his students shapes and challenged them to make architectural designs as part of a geometry lesson.
For Briggs, art education is imperative. The daughter of a Montessori elementary teacher, Briggs said she and her siblings were “heavily supplemented” and spent almost all their free time exploring the museums and exhibits where they lived in Washington D.C.
In Troup County schools, where art programs almost were cut out entirely, and have been heavily cut back, keeping art in the schools and offering children the opportunity to have art instruction is a necessary role for the museum. The museum is working to expand its Center for Creative Learning building in order to accommodate as many children and classes as possible. Briggs said the goal is to offer hands-on courses for children to supplement art education.
“I believe education is the key to success and the key to the community to understand the role of this art museum in town,” Briggs said.
For information on how to contribute to the museum or sign up for classes, call 706-882-3267, email email@example.com or go to www.lagrangeartmuseum.org.
Here are some of the upcoming exhibitions at the LaGrange Art Museum:
•An exhibit featuring artists Jill Chancey Philips, the Visual Arts Alliance of LaGrange and Donna Jackson opens Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. and runs to Sept. 29. Philips also will teach classes on plein air art Aug. 21, Sept. 18, Oct. 2 and Oct. 30.
•The Journey Connections opens Sept. 27 at 6:30 p.m. and runs with West Georgia Health Art Therapy Project 2012 to Oct. 26 in the Cochran Gallery.
•American Folk Hero: Outsider Art of Georgia and Alabama opens Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. and runs to Jan. 19 in the main gallery.