Shelton nonprofit uses mobile museum to tackle art education inequities

cARTie's co-founder and Executive Director Clare Murray poses with the recently acquired 20-foot bus which will become a mobile art education museum.

cARTie’s co-founder and Executive Director Clare Murray poses with the recently acquired 20-foot bus which will become a mobile art education museum.

Contributed photo

SHELTON - A local nonprofit is driving home the importance of the arts, while trying to eliminate inequities in arts education, with a mobile museum that will be bringing art to students in Shelton.

cARTie, Connecticut’s only nonprofit mobile art museum, is set to pilot this fall with three elementary schools in the Valley, including Shelton’s Booth Hill School. In all, 13 schools across the state will get a visit from the 20-foot bus.

“cARTie was founded to bridge inequities in education and arts access across the state by leveraging the benefits of museum-based learning and making them mobile and able to travel directly to schools and students,” said Clare Murray of Shelton, co-founder and executive director.

Murray, who co-founded this operation with her mother, Elizabeth Murray, who is also a Shelton resident, said the aim of the mobile art museum is to spark the love of art in the state’s youth.

The pilot programming, Murray says, involves inviting classes of students from pre-K through second grade aboard its retrofitted 20-foot bus-turned-mobile-museum for an interactive and participatory museum gallery experience. In this first year, cARTie is partnering with elementary schools and will reach up to 600 students in the Valley.

This pilot programming is made possible by recent grants awarded to cARTie by the Derby-Shelton Rotary Club and the Valley Community Foundation, in partnership with the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

“The Valley Community Foundation is happy to provide this funding support to cARTie to make the arts come alive for young children in the Valley,” said Sharon Closius, the foundation’s president and CEO.

“Helping to nurture a sense of curiosity and wonder at an early age helps to set the stage for a lifetime appreciation of artistic expression and engagement,” she added.

According to Murray, cARTie is a “reimagined museum” that brings the museum field trip to schools. She said it deconstructs the traditional white, Euro-centric model of what an art museum is by making sure all Connecticut youths see themselves represented in the displays, featured artists, and experiences they have while visiting.

The museum’s activities are two-fold - to offer inclusive internship and exhibition opportunities to a diverse population of high school arts students, and to provide critical museum-based learning opportunities that enrich and deepen early education, while meeting core standards, to students in second grade and younger who otherwise may not have access to robust arts programming.

The idea was born in 2018, while Murray and her mother were volunteering as educators at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine. The pair both have backgrounds in early childhood education, and she said she has devoted her career to museums and museum education.

Murray said her mother worked in private preschools across Fairfield County and volunteered in the Bridgeport public schools. So she witnessed firsthand the inequities in education and arts access, Murray said.

“That we could bring our skill sets together and address the stark inequities in education and arts access across our home state of Connecticut motivated us to start talking with friends and colleagues about re-imagining museum education and museum field trips for young children,” Murray said.

“There is much research documenting why museum-based learning matters to developing critical and creative thinking dispositions so necessary in the 21st Century. I’ve even conducted some of that research myself,” Murray added. “What’s been missing, though, is action and change.”

Murray said the pair spent the past three years forming a team to bring cARTie to fruition. The team includes a board of directors, a community of volunteer educators, a teacher advisory board, and a student advisory board, among other advisers.

“At the same time, we’ve researched state standards and best practices in teaching critical thinking through art, developed curriculum, and built a model that can and will be sustainable over time as we continue to diversify our streams of funding,” Murray said.

cARTie offers exhibition and internship opportunities to high-school-aged students across Connecticut, and the students’ art covers the mobile museum bus walls.

Murray said there are three interactive learning opportunities inside the mobile museum bus each school year - plus pre- and post-visit curriculum for teachers to use with their students. cARTie also has six volunteer educators in training who will support the visits, plus Murray and her mother.

“We continue to await signed final contracts with our pilot schools this 2021-22 school year, but estimate reaching 13 elementary schools this year alone - and growing to more than 50 by 2023-24,” Murray said.

To learn more about cARTie, visit www.cartie.org. Follow cARTie on Facebook and Instagram @CTcARTie.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com