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Innovative Program Uses the Arts to Improve Employment Skills

Emily Poisel

Last school year, fourth graders at Springfield’s Boyd Elementary took part in a new program that combines the arts with the teaching of skills needed for employment.

Now, the Springfield Art Museum has received a 2016 Sparks! Ignition Grant from the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS) for the innovative program, Art@Work. According to IMLS,  these grants "encourage libraries and archives to test and evaluate specific innovations in the ways they operate and the services they provide." 

Kate Baird, museum educator at the Springfield Art Museum, said "the idea behind the program (Art@Work) is to use art and the processes that artists  to help build the soft skills that are needed for success in the workforce."

Baird said a teaching artist and a representative of the Missouri Job Center visit students in the classroom once a month during the school year.

"We typically choose a soft skill that we're going to focus on with each session, so that might be group work or that might be problem solving or that might be communication, something like that," she said.

The program came about to bridge the skills gap that local employers have said exists among their employees, according to the museum’s director, Nick Nelson.

"There was a very conscious decision to work with elementary-age kids in that it's an early intervention," he said.

The museum adopted a new vision statement in 2011, Nelson said, part of which is to become more of a partner in economic development in Springfield.

He said the program is fairly unique and that’s why he believes they were one of seven museums in North America to receive a Sparks! Ignition Grant this year.  According to Nelson, IMLS looks for new and innovative models that might lead to “best practices in the field.”

"We're excited to pilot this and see what comes from it and what good comes from it," he said.

According to Nelson, a program like Art@Work, if they can show that it's effective, could change the way arts organizations think about their role in their communities related to economic development.  He said they hope it will help both the community and the children involved.

"To make them more competitive as they enter the workforce but then also make our community more competitive in attracting employers by having a good workforce," he said.

He’s excited about creating a  program that might be able to be replicated in other places or expanded in our community.

Programs such as Art@Work, he said, can change the way people view the role of arts in education and can show how necessary they are.

"When you're looking at where to focus your education, your time and dollars, the arts are absolutely vital because you learn the skills that make for a competitive workforce, you know, problem solving, creative thinking and communication and team work," he said.

Because the museum received the Sparks! Ignition Grant, Baird said they’ll expand Art@Works this year to include trips to the Springfield Art Museum, to artists’ studios and to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.  She said she hopes they'll eventually be able to expand the program to other Springfield schools.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.