Teachers voice concern over Valley Kids Art Show demise
The Aspen Art Museum is scrapping its Valley Kids Art Show, and teachers throughout the Roaring Fork Valley say it will hurt local art appreciation.The museum’s new director said the move will improve the museum’s ability to accomplish its mission and that a former museum employee spreading misinformation is fueling the teachers’ unhappiness.The popular Valley Kids Art Show, a fixture every spring at the Aspen Art Museum for more than a quarter-century, is a tradition for pre-kindergarten artists to 18-year-olds.In its place, new director and chief curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson has created the Young Curators of the Roaring Fork, an educational program aimed at teaching students between the ages of 13 and 18 how to curate their own shows.A Sept. 14 news release announcing the Young Curators program made the change public; the release did not mention the Valley Kids Art Show.Teachers up and down the valley, however, heard from the museum’s former education coordinator, Kat Townsend, about the end of the Valley Kids show.Townsend was fired on Sept. 30 after seven years on the job, she said this week, noting simply, “I had a lot of passion for the programs that are being cut.” She declined to comment further about changes to the programs she once oversaw or why she was fired.Teachers’ reactions ranged from dismay to anger over the changes.”I’m very sad,” said Paula Ponto, art teacher at Aspen Country Day School. “It’s such positive energy. It’s so exciting for the kids. They love seeing their own art at this fabulous museum.” She noted that art teachers from Aspen to Parachute, and even some in the Paonia and Grand Junction areas, send their students’ art to the annual show and brought classes on field trips to the show.”The way I feel about it, it’s an exciting link between the art museum, our school and the community,” said Aspen Community School art teacher Hilary Forsyth.Forsyth said early exposure to such programs can lead to a lifelong interest in art.”I’m curious what the art museum’s mission really is for young people,” Forsyth said.Carbondale Middle School art teacher Ami Maes, who annually has sent dozens of pieces to the Valley Kids show, noted that Townsend was “so successful” as the museum’s education coordinator.She said Townsend’s dismissal has “all the art teachers saying, like, ‘This is crazy. How could you replace her, and why would you need to?'””We’ve got to start getting kids excited about going to the museum at a young age” so they will keep going throughout their lives and perhaps even become patrons and donors, Maes said. She said she is circulating a petition and letter to submit to the museum urging that the Valley Kids show continue.”I think there’s been a complete misunderstanding about the status of the show,” Jacobson countered. She said the museum is “taking something that the museum has done for a long time, which, quite frankly, has been rife with problems, and making it into an opportunity.”The problems, she said, had to do with the complexity of putting on a show with more than 1,000 pieces from numerous schools over a wide area, a task she said was “overwhelming for the staff here.”Jacobson, who has been on the job since July, pointed out that she has two children of her own who are very interested in art, and she rejected any suggestion that she is scaling back the Valley Kids show.”We are still doing a kids art show,” she said. As for the artists younger than 13 who used to submit works to the Valley Kids show and would not have pieces in the Young Curators show, she said, “They’re still included, but their artwork is not included.” Through the museum’s mentor program, details of which are still being worked out, older students will give tours of the museum’s shows to audiences that will include younger students, she said. Thus inspired to pursue their art interests, the younger students can submit works to shows “when they reach the age that they can be a part of it,” she said.As to the claim that fewer kids will make the effort to get to the art museum if there is no Valley Kids show, Jacobson said, “Then we’re not doing our job,” which is to establish art programs and offer shows that attract patrons from the entire region.Jacobson also disputed that she is making cuts in the museum’s art education programs in general.Rather, she said, the art education program is being restructured “to really use the resources that we have to foster our mission,” which she said is “to present world-class visual arts programming … in a year-round institution, and to show all-contemporary art, all the time.”Jacobson maintained that the museum’s art education programs, for adults and youths, are going to be stronger. They will all be built around initial tours of the various shows hanging on the museum walls, not simply free-form art classes with no clear ties to the museum.Jacobson said she is still working out details on the education programs but she offered assurances that the number of classes will be “the same number as before, I’m sure, if not more.”One of the founding board members of the art museum in the 1970s, local inventor and political eccentric Nick DeWolf, reacted with outrage over the changes at the museum.”What it’s really all about is a new director thinking she knows more than we do,” he said, noting that he was involved in putting on the museum’s art shows early in the history of the facility and is aware of friction between “professional” and “community” art interests.DeWolf said the Young Curators of the Roaring Fork program doesn’t cut it.”What’s that?” he said. “A course in administrative skills? What we care about is seeing the kids’ paintings.”He said the true purpose of the museum should be “to inspire creativity in all the valley’s children.”
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