The National Gallery of Art (NGA) conducted a program evaluation of its long-standing initiative, Art Around the Corner (AAC). AAC is a set of programs that partners the NGA with Washington, DC-area Title I elementary schools to bring students into the NGA to engage in critical and creative thinking activites. The study explored the impact of AAC on the program's three primary audiences—fourth- and fifth-grade students, classroom teachers and principals, and families of students participating in the program. Additionally, the study assessed the implementation of short and long versions of the program and began to explore program outcomes to assist the NGA with future decision-making.
Evaluation findings demonstrate that the program provides valuable experiences to students, their teachers, and their families. The program is designed to cultivate creative and critical thinking dispositions, and observations show the program provides numerous opportunities for students to observe, describe, and hypothesize meanings for works of art using Harvard Project Zero’s See/Think/Wonder strategy. During interviews, students who participated in the program applied some of these skills unprompted, suggesting they have begun to cultivate these thinking dispositions to varying degrees. Many students also spoke unprompted about the importance of expressing themselves personally, through art-making, sketching, or generating ideas. Thus, students demonstrated a notable level of comfort with and interest in the artistic process. Further, teacher interviews revealed the truly collaborative and organized nature of the program to successfully engage students with art.
Significance of the Findings:
Evaluation findings indicate the great potential of the program to achieve both program depth (long version) and breadth (short version); however, through reflection on the findings, NGA staff realized they are trying to accomplish too much and risk not accomplishing what they truly value—developing creative and critical thinking dispositions. Thus, NGA staff determined next steps, including: (1) specify and clarify what the program is trying to achieve by prioritizing and clarifying student indicators; and (2) reviewing program strategies and pre- and post-lesson materials to streamline the program and eliminate any strategies or lessons that do not support the intended outcomes. Collaboratively with staff, RK&A created a framework that staff can use to vet ideas for program growth, allowing the program to grow and change while remaining effective for students. In the end, staff concluded that reaching more students through the program is most important and will focus their efforts on achieving program breadth by expanding the program and experimenting with new versions of the program.
The evaluation process began with a series of workshops with NGA staff to create measurable audience outcomes and indicators. Before collecting data, RK&A secured permission from an Institutional Review Board and the local school district by preparing a detailed application package that included data collection instruments, consent forms, school permission letters, and proof of Human Subject Protection training for RK&A staff and contractors. For the evaluation, RK&A conducted gallery observations of the short and long versions of the program, student interviews, school staff interviews, and family member interviews to explore the program from various perspectives. All data are qualitative and underwent content analysis
to identify trends and patterns.
Limitations of the Research:
This study assessed the implementation of each version of the program and began to explore (but not measure) program outcomes to assist the NGA in decision making when considering the future of AAC. Thus, findings are not meant to be generalizable beyond this program.
Questions to Guide New Research:
Which program strategies are most effective at developing students' thinking dispositions? Which pre-/post-lesson materials are essential for achieving impact with students in the galleries? What is the potential impact of a program like AAC on the families of participating students?