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Carnegie Picture Lab is putting art back into schools

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Susan Greene has a problem on her hands, and it’s not just dried paint.

Greene is executive director of the nonprofit Carnegie Picture Lab in Walla Walla. The organization’s mission is to bring art education to elementary students in the Walla Walla area. For students in kindergarten through fifth grade, it will likely be some of the only art education opportunities they get.

“It’s so puzzling, because the research is there,” Greene said recently at the Picture Lab’s downtown studio on East Main Street. “(Washington state’s) standards set in 2017 have a high priority on the arts, yet the arts are not funded as general base education, which means it’s levy dollars that support all of this good stuff and levy dollars are discretionary. It’s interesting: They say it’s important, yet the funding at the state level — you have to wonder.”

Greene and colleague Kristie Coleman are the sole employees at the Picture Lab, although they have an active, engaged board of directors helping along the way.

The sad reality is art education is virtually non-existent in area elementary schools, unless teachers are incorporating it into their standard materials.

“So really we fill a real gap in that subject matter by bringing art education based on art history, artful thinking and then art making,” Greene said. “And without that, kids wouldn’t have that exposure.”

Carnegie Picture Lab has trained volunteers who go to the schools and teach lessons that are derived by Coleman, who has spent hundreds of hours meticulously putting together the material.

There are no credentialed art teachers in any local elementary schools, Greene said. So Carnegie now goes into 13 elementary schools in Walla Walla, College Place, Prescott, Waitsburg, Dixie and Athena/Weston and the private Rogers Adventist and Assumption Catholic schools.

“Almost everything we currently do takes place in the schools, not here in the studio,” Greene said.

The volunteers can receive training at the studio and retrieve supplies there as well.

As the programs expanded and the partnerships with local schools began to flourish, others took note too.

Now Carnegie Picture Lab routinely partners with the Walla Walla Public Library for events that tie together reading, art, music and more.

One such facet is Storybook Art, which happens monthly at the library.

During early release days at local elementary schools, typically on the third Wednesday of the month, except for May, Picture Lab is set up at the library with an engaging, colorful program.

Greene said material at Storybook Art puts an emphasis on telling stories and combining it with interactive art.

She said the stories connect much more with kids than a typical lesson would, so the pragmatic information is kept to a minimum as eager learners get to explore with their minds creatively.

Practical steps are taken for many Picture Lab projects, such as giving kids clipboards with art attached to them so they can touch, feel and experience the art instead of just staring at pictures.

Storybook Art takes place this month from 2:30-4 p.m., Wednesday at the Walla Walla Public Library, 238 E. Alder St.

Elementary age children are encouraged to attend and learn more about storytelling through artwork. See more details on Page 2.

Greene hopes that events such as this can begin to fill the great gap of art learning locally. In a city that hums with artists, studios, concerts and other artistic endeavors, she hopes children are not left in the dust when it comes to engaging with art.

“All the research is there about the importance of art, the power of art,” Greene said.

“Especially 21st century thinking skills, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. That’s what the 21st century is all about. The kids, they need to develop those skills in order to be successful, effective contributors to this world.”