Mia’s Art Adventure, at Home!

Art Adventure is a program that engages elementary school students with artworks from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s (Mia) collection – encouraging creativity, critical thinking and global awareness through in-depth explorations of art across various cultures and time periods.

This is my seventh year as a “Picture Person” in Mia’s program, where I get to spend hours sitting on a stool with a docent in the galleries learning about the history, style, meaning and legacy of certain works of art. And then I get the honor of going to my kids’ elementary school and leading their classes in sessions about each piece. We learn, laugh, ask questions and sometimes do a craft.

I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure of leading Art Adventure for all three of my kids, and it’s one of my favorite memories of their elementary school years. It is so fantastic that Mia offers this program.

But this year, right in the middle of the Art Adventure season, schools changed to distance learning because of COVID-19. Unfazed, my daughter Annie and I decided to keep going with Art Adventure sessions for her classmates, but do them on YouTube.

Mia took notice and interviewed me about it. You can read it here:

Critical Thinking in Critical Times: When the novel coronavirus hit Minnesota, forcing the closure of schools, Greg Swan wasn’t about to let it cancel art, too.

When the novel coronavirus hit Minnesota, forcing the closure of schools, Greg Swan wasn’t about to let it cancel art, too. He and his wife are raising their family in a 130-year-old house in Historic Downtown Chaska, near the Minnesota River. All three of their kids have benefitted from Art Adventure, Mia’s popular school program, which uses the museum’s collection to teach critical thinking, empathy, and other important skills in Minnesota classrooms.

In fact, Greg has volunteered with the program for seven years.So shortly after schools closed, Greg made a video version of Art Adventure with his daughter Annie, and posted it to his YouTube channel. “Turn off your mouth, turn on your ears,” he says in the video, wearing a grey hoodie and a hat that says “eelpout,” the humble bottom-feeder of northern lakes. He shows a picture of a small, remarkably detailed sculpture from Mexico, about 2,400 years old, depicting a household of ancient Nyarit people. Then he and Annie discuss what they see.

“What’s that Disney movie where they talk about hanging out with ancestors in the afterlife?” Greg asks Annie. It’s Coco, and while an image of the film’s guitar-playing hero flashes onscreen, they launch into a discussion of beliefs about the living and the dead, and the virtually nonexistent barrier between them in ancient Nyarit culture.

“I love the way we’re trained to hold up a piece of art and ask questions—and there’s no right or wrong answer,” Greg says of Art Adventure. “The idea of critical thinking and creative thinking is so core to being a human, and it’s a key job skill whether you sell insurance or illustrate books.

Greg comes by video creation naturally. He works in digital and social media for Fallon, the Minneapolis-based ad agency. He’s taken the family to the Andy Warhol Museum, in Pittsburgh, to expose the kids to Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup can painting and ask, is this art? Annie, too, is a natural: she’s won a ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair for her art and has her own private YouTube channel.

But Greg knows this isn’t everyone’s experience. Some kids have rarely set foot in art museums. Art Adventure, he says, can bring that experience to them, even in a virtual classroom. “Art appreciation is a life-long skill,” he says. “It helps you spark creativity, and I love that Mia equips that and supports that.”

And if you’re interested in learning about the additive process of sculpture from the Nayarit people, here’s our video:

All of the credit and attention for this belongs to Annie. She is so extremely talented, comfortable on camera, and is an artist to the core. She’s seriously the best. It’s an honor to be her dad.

Art rocks. Thanks again to Mia for putting together such a stellar curriculum and helping get art out of the museum and into these kids’ lives.


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