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Detroit students discover art the the DIA

Cody High School students

By Raina L. Baker
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The Arts Discovery Program at the Detroit Institute of Arts has offered a new creative element in teaching art appreciation this summer…teenagers.

The summer pilot program gives up to 50 students the opportunity to learn and experience art in the city one day per week for five consecutive weeks. Since 1995 the program has provided exposure and art education to four different schools but has expanded this summer to include high school students who co-facilitate with museum docents. The program is working in collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sister and Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkin’s summer art program through the Jovan Foundation.

One morning a week parents are responsible for getting their students to the arranged schools or community centers and a bus takes them to the DIA. Students work with art educators and museum docents and other students from Cody High School. The students visit the museum to examine the art and then have the opportunity to create art in the studio with instructors.

“It’s a real immersion in the museum, “ said Jennifer Czajkowski, Executive Director of Learning and Interpretation This is the first year of the program.

They got the idea to try the program in the summer, when they saw that the studio space was full during the school year, says Czajkowsi.

The DIA became involved with Councilwoman Shaunteel Jenkin’s Javon Foundation because of the council member’s interest in funding the program as an effort to increase youth exposure to art and decrease youth violence in the community.

Not only are these high school students graced with summer jobs and stipends but, they learn about the museum. “Just in watching them, they really enjoy the kids and for many of them that was the key element,” Czajkowsi said. “They’re responsible for modeling good behavior and when they look at art and are interested that models for the younger kids who can say that it’s cool because these cool teenagers are into it,” said Czajkowski.

The expectations of the high school students are great and the students, like Brandon Rutland, rising junior at Cody High School, say they appreciate that trust has been instilled in them to do a thorough job.

Rutland says that he comes from some of the same neighborhoods as the children and also works at Don Boscoe Hall, where he sees some of the same students. He says he’s happy to serve as a mentor,a role models who encourages expression. “We don’t criticize or judge them here. They can say whatever they feel about the art and know that it’s safe to express themselves here,” said Rutland.

Cody students completed a two-day training to work with the art camp participants. They assist the museum docents by helping the children use their imagination to describe paintings. Prompting them with questions like, “What do you see?” “What made you say that?” And, “what more can we find?”

The program encourages imagination and perspective through an interactive style of learning called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a teaching method that engages students in discussion of visual images, resulting in conversations that are inclusive and informative.

“We’re glad to learn something new,” said 11-year-old Caprice Miller, a student at Detroit Community Elemetary. “It’s exciting.”

The program directors and art educators pick different painters to examine every week. They aim to pick paintings that have narrative. “We want them to figure out the puzzle to hold their interest but we don’t want it to be so puzzling where they just throw up their hands,” said Czajkowsi. She says the program aims to provide a diversity of images and art as the students also examine sculptures and statues.

The elementary students analyze, enjoy and paint their own mental pictures describing art from acround the world on all kinds of platforms.

While the children eat lunch, provided by the program, the Cody High School students take their on tour of art with the museum docents. The high school students also meet with art professionals such as puppet curators and curators of prints and drawings and conservation scientists.

Museum Docent and former high school teacher, Barbara Brownlie says she can’t even express how wonderful the program is and how much the high school students have improved in their presentation skills and articulation of art. “Every week they’ve gotten more confident. I just wish we could get more kids to the program because it’s terrific for the high school students and the children. They’re being exposed to so much.” Brownlie says that she’s even seen some of the high school students take their own time to learn about art in the museum.

As the program wraps up, the students have acknowledged their individual and collective growth, in addition to their appreciation for art.

“I have better presentation skills and more confidence,” said Cody’s Diamond Hardy. “I don’t want this to be my last week.”

Rutland says the program is an opportunity for them to learn from the young students as well. “They offer insight. As generations change, so does the meaning of the art I think They’re seeing things change that we can’t even though we’re not that much older than them.”

Czajkowski says she hopes to bring the program back next summer. “We want to make the museum a welcoming and accessible place to everyone. We want all kids in the Detroit area to know that this is their museum, this art belongs to them.”

For more information educational opportunities at the Detroit Institute of Arts visit

Photo Courtesy of Raina L. Baker


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