It was a bright Wednesday morning as two third grade classes from San Jose Unified’s Grant Elementary School excitedly burst into the Triton Museum of Art. Thanks to a generous grant from The Mission City Community Fund and the Rotary Club of San Jose Silicon Valley and Foundation, these children are part of the 16 classes from Title 1 schools who have the opportunity to visit their first art museum.
The students’ time at the Triton is divided into two activities: first, they are led through the museum’s exhibitions with Arts Educator Breeta Toma before having the chance to create their own masterpiece inspired by the museum’s collection. “This program has been wonderful for me to lead,” Toma explained. “It has made me realize how much children love to create art but aren’t given the time.”
The Triton Museum has already offered half of the free ArtTours–eight of which were designated for the Santa Clara Unified School District and eight for the San Jose Unified School District. As the children (whose ages range from pre-K to fifth grade) visit the museum, Toma has a clear purpose for their visit. “In the tour, we focus on visual thinking strategies,” Toma said. “What do you see? Why do you say that? What do you find? These sorts of leading questions help build to a deeper appreciation of the art.”
These tours, in particular, have been focused on artist / architect Bill Gould’s current exhibit on display. Toma’s tour looked at how his public art blends man-made objects with organic matter as an ode to the area’s history–first as the Valley of Heart’s Delight and now as Silicon Valley. Throughout the tour, Toma offers a chance for students to explain what they see as a way to help them practice new vocabulary words and different forms of expression.
Students from Ms. Martha Salazar’s class, in particular, enjoyed pointing out the shapes they noticed in his works and marveled that recycled materials–such as pieces of car windows–were found in his art. Some, in particular, were moved by the redwoods cutouts. A few mused aloud that they wished someone would create art for their school as “cool” as Gould’s. “It’s such a joy to see the museum be fully utilized,” Toma said. “By bringing these students, you can see how excited they are and maybe they’ll ask their parents to come and so on.”
For Toma, a former arts educator in the schools, it is particularly redemptive to offer the program at the Triton. “My students were desperate for their art time–and we often to fight to keep it on the schedule. I strongly believe that children need art. In creating art, they learn there’s no right or wrong–it opens a whole new way of understanding the world.”
In the Triton art classroom, the students were treated to the chance to make an organic shape–a leaf–using engineered materials such as wires, beads, and pipe cleaners. The students that Wednesday were deeply engaged–showing off their colors and shapes to the chaperones and teacher. At the end, Toma showed them that if they bent their leaves, the new depth of their “sculpture” would create a shadow on the table. A few were amazed, just as Toma had predicted. “That’s my favorite part of these tours,” she said. “When you see these ‘aha’ moments or notice the joy of creation on the children’s faces. They are bringing home so much more than just their art piece.”