Smithsonian American Art Museum: Presenting a Fun, Online Classroom for Prepping Student Travelers

by Howard Clemens

There are many art museums across the United States with notable collections. Yet only a portion of these museums specialize in American Art. It is true that many museums collect American art, but few focus solely on it. A student tour of Washington D.C. is greatly enriched with a visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A visit to this comprehensive museum will expose students to American Art and artists.

Class preparation for a trip like this is important. Many teachers will want to incorporate blended learning exercises to pique student interest in the class trip to D.C. Prior to a visit, teachers will want to explore the rich, in-depth classroom activities available online. Visit http://americanart.si.edu/education/activities/online/index.cfm to review them all.

AmericanArtMuseumTeachers will love the prepared exercises. Students will learn about American art from different perspectives. There are classroom exercises that focus on different eras in American Art, evolving identities for various ethnic groups, and fun, mystery solving exercises that help students retain what they learn.

An example of an inspiring and interesting exercise is Meet me at Midnight. This imaginary adventure involves a folk art sculpture coming to life at night and mixing up the art in the museum. Students are tasked with setting things aright.

There are a plethora of ways to learn about art. One of the ways to do this is to immerse students in the stories of artists. Many of the artists featured in American Kaleidoscope emerge from working class backgrounds or specific ethnic groups and achieve greater recognition for their works through social movements, such as Chicano Rights, Black Rights or even Women’s Rights.

Selecting Del Corazón! is a way to immerse students in the experience of the Latino artist. This classroom exercise features bi-lingual interviews of artists. Plus, the interactive zoomify feature allows students to take a closer look at work by this important group of Americans.

In Cleopatra: Lost and Found, students will learn more about the intersection of art and history. The focus in this exercise is gaining a unique understanding of historical, literary and biblical figures celebrated in the art of sculpture.

For many art students, participating in classroom activities online will be stimulating and fun –but these exercises still do not compare to a real time visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Downtown Washington D.C. Teachers will want to combine the online learning with a real visit to see the exhibitions.

class trips d.c.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum was renovated from 2000-2005. The Renwick Gallery is a centerpiece of the work completed and it is a stunning example of architecture. This was actually the first building in the U.S. specifically built to be an art museum. An important part of the gallery that is not to be missed is the Renwick Gallery. Located right across the street from the White House – this building houses American craft arts. The current exhibition is called Wonder. This exhibition of large-scale installations includes well-known cotemporary American artists.

Smithsonian American Art Museum continues to be a leader in art education across the United States. Since 2006, the Museum curatorial staff has launched 14 major traveling exhibitions of more than 1,000 pieces of art from its permanent collection. The Museum’s renovations left more time for curatorial staff to take a deeper look at the collection and send parts of it on tour.

There are plenty of reasons to take student groups on a trip to Washington D.C. For more information on a Student Art Tour of Washington D.C. or a general student tour of Washington D.C. that incorporates a visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Request a Quote.

Student Travel to New York City Includes a Look at a Diverse Immigrant History at Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum is a great place to visit to understand 19th Century immigrant lifesytles.
The Tenement Museum is a great place to visit to understand 19th Century immigrant lifesytles.

by Howard Clemens

Located near Chinatown in Lower Manhattan at 103 Orchard Street, the Tenement Museum is one of the most important museums chronicling the extensive history of American immigration in the past two centuries. There are restored apartments with detailed histories of the people who left their homes and families to live and work in this new and hopeful and often unpleasant new country. There are also many walking tours and themed exhibitions, making this the most in-depth museum of its kind.

A Time Capsule in Lower Manhattan?
While many Americans reluctantly recognize a new wave of anti-immigrant fervor, it is the perfect time to educate students about the historical trials of the millions who made their way to the United States for a better life. One of the best places for a closer examination of this history is New York’s Tenement Museum, founded by historian and social activist Ruth Abram. It was almost an accident that Abram and her cofounder Anita Jacobsen found their perfect location for the museum when inspecting the storefront property on Orchard Street. Cracking a door to a backroom was all it took for them to discover that the entire building was former tenement housing sealed from the public for more than half a century, the perfect time capsule.

Since then the site has become a national trust for historic preservation. Extensive and meticulous research has revealed details about the many mid-19th Century immigrant lives at the Orchard Street address. Over the past twenty years museum staff have restored half a dozen apartments, most recently the home of Irish immigrants, The Moores, who lived in the building in 1869. Students and teachers alike will learn while enjoying the restored tenement building for a complete time travel experience.

Museum Workshops Train Teachers in Diversity Learning
Educators can attend workshops at the museum that are specifically designed for them on building classroom curriculum about the historic aspects of early immigrants. The workshops include details on basic survival skills of the early immigrants. This included learning to buy and sell goods in the neighborhood. Outdoor markets, corner stores, bakeries, meats and dry goods stores shaped the overarching definition of what it means to live in an American city in an immigrant neighborhood.

Teachers will participate in discussions on individual immigrant histories and how families preserved their traditions to enrich the ever-changing cultural history of the United States. Sadly, part of this story involves a hard look at discrimination. The details of discriminatory hiring, housing and social practices against early immigrants can pave the way for a more complete and empathetic understanding of the difficulties in their lives. Large groups of people from various countries and backgrounds came to the United States for different reasons. One of the major reasons was to improve their situations by making better livelihoods – for themselves and their children. The U.S. offered this by being the ‘land of opportunity.’

Educators Learn About Immigrant Life in 19th Century NYC
A key component to the workshops looks at industry and how immigrants were used as cheap labor for factories. The kinds of work and the on-the-job dangers experienced are an important part of this discussion. Ultimately, immigrant communities would create unionization of workers to combat abusive practices of factory owners. The struggles of the new Americans helped shape the idea of fighting for control over the well-being and rights of every working person. These early immigrant workers made marks upon our nation that continue to be a point of contention for industry, workers and leading politicians.

Tenement Building and Walking Tours for Student Tour Groups
Many different experts have come together to uncover the history of the Orchard Street apartments. Wallpaper conservators, paint specialists and urban archeologists have combed the building to piece together stories that have implications in understanding family life and legislation of landlords.

The building tours have various themes. The “Shop Life” tour examines the many family owned businesses that grew out of different immigrant communities from butchers to undergarment discount stores. The “Sweatshop Workers” tour takes a look at the garment industry and the “Irish Outsiders” tour focuses on the Moores, a family faced with prejudice as they prepare for the historic St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Walking tours also have various themes, like “Tasting the Tenement,” a tour of the food in the surrounding neighborhood, from bagel shops to falafel cafes which remain an important part of the history of immigrants. There is also the “Tenements Talks” which are an ongoing series of discussions by writers and artists about their lives connecting to earlier immigrants. Upcoming talks by Laurie Anderson and others can be found on the museum website in the events listings.
Extending the Student Learning Experience
The museum offers activities on learning with objects and primary sources as well as lessons in oral history. There are also English as a Second Language (ESL) programs available. The Tenement Museum is situated in the heart of Lower Manhattan. It is a very quick walk to Chinatown, and New York City offers one of the busiest and most delicious Chinatown experiences in the nation. The Tenement Museum is a complete experience for students and teachers alike, and the surrounding neighborhood helps enrich the time spent there.

For more information on scheduling a student trip to New York City with the Tenement Museum on the itinerary, Request a Quote.