Every January, artwork pours into Barton College’s Case Art Building from schools all across North Carolina, to compete in the nation-wide Scholastic Art Awards. Hundreds of originally designed and created works submitted by students in grades seven through twelve fill the rooms of the Case Art Building.  And, for the last four years, Peter Damroth has been there to help gallery team members put the show together.

Currently a senior at Barton, Peter used his experience with Scholastics this year to complete his second Capstone project with the Barton College Honors Program. Working with the Scholastics artwork, Peter designed a project that is intended to give children as young as age three a gallery experience that educates them about art through fun, hands-on activities. Peter combined his love for art and an interest in teaching to create a project that is similar to some in larger art institutes, such as the San Diego Museum of Art.

One of Peter’s main goals in this project was to find a way to make art more meaningful and accessible to children. He has seen firsthand that not all schools have art education programs in place, and programs like this are designed to help reach those students whose schools don’t have an education program. “You know, you have the push for music, but you really don’t see the push for art,” Peter said. The program features a short slide presentation, scavenger hunt activities, and a hands-on session where the students get to create original works of art. Many of the activities in his program ask students to either recreate scenes of home, loved ones, or images from their dreams in various media and styles. These kinds of activities help the students learn about art in a way that makes it relevant and exciting, while also stimulating the imagination.

The project benefits not only Peter, but also the Barton Art Galleries and Barton College. A project like this requires a lot of thought, time, and effort not only from Peter but from every one involved, including Peter’s professor Susan Fecho, chair of the Department of Art, and Mark Gordon, professor of art and director of the Eastern/Central North Carolina Region of The Scholastic Art Awards Program. Peter also consulted with Dr. Kathy James, director of the Honors Program at Barton. As a member of the Honors Council, Dr. James must approve all projects before they are carried out. Dr. James approved the plan for Peter’s second Capstone project, saying that one of the goals of the Honors Program is to have the students reach beyond themselves and into the school and the community. Fecho shared that one of Peter’s goals was to improve the quality of the student visit, and even though there wasn’t time for the schools to schedule the field trips this time around, the project is already picking up interest for future years.

Peter explained that he wanted to do something that would be lasting and successful in later years. “I wanted it to stay at the art gallery,” he shared. He made sure brochures with the project’s program standards, mission statement, and information for school tours, along with contact information that were shared with participating schools. “Bonnie Loschiavo, the Barton Art Galleries’ secretary, has already received phone calls from interested teachers,” Peter added. This interest is beneficial to the art galleries, and because Peter’s project is designed so that young children can be involved, the project also may benefit the Scholastics Art Awards. Peter continued, “…we were trying to get them [students] excited about scholastics.” By getting children involved with art from a young age, programs such as this can promote art education and keep an active interest in programs such as the Scholastic Arts.

This project proved to be an excellent example of “engaged learning” and also exemplifies what an Honors project should try to achieve. The Barton College Honors Program creates opportunities for personal growth in understanding oneself and others, and it allows participants a chance to be leaders in the Barton community of learners. While working on this project, Peter was assigned four students to work with him. As leader of the group, he assigned roles and jobs to the other students. Peter said the added responsibility initially made him nervous but, by the end of the project, he had learned a lot about leadership, planning, and management. Fecho said that his level of experience with the Barton Art Galleries and his interest in teaching made him perfect for a project like this. Projects such as Peter’s demonstrate the benefits of an engaged learning environment. He was able to develop skills such as leadership, planning, time management, and execution. Peter reiterated that he “felt engaged the whole time” in a way that he wouldn’t have been in a classroom. Dr. James added that one of the goals is to get students out of a classroom and into an environment where they can apply the academic theory in a meaningful way.

For Peter, all the hard work paid off in the realization of his ultimate goal – to integrate education and art in a way that allows a child to learn while still engaging in imaginative art creation. Peter believes that art is an important tool for self-expression. He defines art as a creative “flow” of the student’s thoughts and emotions “using any media possible and your imagination… I love imagination.” By creating this program, Peter may have found a way to provide the tools and inspiration to do just that.

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Written by Ashley Smith, senior public relations intern

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