The Speed’s Art Detectives Brings Exploration to the Classroom

Story and photos by Remy Sisk

Although museum field trips are nearly integral to elementary education, the Speed Art Museum is doing things a little bit differently by reversing the model and bringing art into schools. Through the Art Detectives program, students in the Kentuckiana area get to experience the wonder of the Speed’s immense collection inside their very own classrooms.

Art Detectives first began in 2013 when the museum closed for renovation “as a way to stay engaged with the community and specifically with schools in the area,” recounts Speed Art Museum Teaching Programs Coordinator Amber Thieneman. “So they curated these crates based on what was in the education collection and started going out to schools, and then it’s continued ever since.”

Thieneman works with schools to schedule times when two teaching fellows can come into the classroom and lead sessions of exploration. Schools can choose from six different crates. “We have culture-specific crates like Discover Africa, Discover Europe, Discover Kentucky and Discover Native American Cultures,” she explained at a recent visit to a classroom. “And then the crate that they’re seeing today is Who We Are and What We Make, and we also have a STEAM crate, which is science, technology, engineering, art and math – that one’s new this year.”

The teaching fellows work with the students as they are broken into small groups and examine different pieces from within the crates. The students consider such questions as what the object is made of and why it was made while they closely study the artwork they’re holding in their hands. This process fulfills Art Detectives’ central goal of developing three skills within the students: observation, collaboration and problem solving.

“I love being able to get in the classroom and see the effect that it has on students and the questions that they ask,” Thieneman exudes, “and also to see them explore the works and be able to hold things in their hands that they might not have the opportunity to do in the museum. I think it’s very important because it is a hands-on program and it opens that door while exploring works of art and being able to see things differently. And hopefully, it also encourages students to come visit the museum.”

Thieneman looks forward to developing new crates and building upon existing ones while also strengthening the Speed’s relationship with area schools and the greater community. Literally putting art in the hands of children creates a learning and exploring process unlike any other and allows children an unparalleled – and educationally significant – opportunity. “I think it opens up a door for them to see other cultures and be exposed to things that they may not be exposed to in their community,” she maintains, “and also allows and encourages them to ask questions so that it then opens their minds to all of these new things.” VT