Educating the Educator: Summer Teacher Institutes and Arts Integration at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

October 31, 2019

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is devoted to arts integration, an approach to teaching and learning in which content standards are taught and assessed equitably in and through the arts. Last month, I participated in a panel on arts integration moderated by ForwARd Arkansas Executive Director Susan Harriman at the Education Innovation Summit hosted by the University of Arkansas Office for Innovation in Education. The panel discussed the benefits of arts integration and the important role partnerships play in implementing this approach in the classroom.

The benefits are well-known. Arts integration helps students develop creative problem-solving skills; connects them to their own culture and other cultures; and increases attendance, graduation rates and test scores.

At Crystal Bridges, we employ museum educators and teaching artists to facilitate this work in the galleries and in the classroom. In addition to our daily school tours and partnership programs with local school districts, the Museum also hosts Summer Teacher Institutes to train educators across multiple disciplines how to integrate art into their teaching. Teaching from works of art can feel overwhelming, especially for teachers who do not have a background in art history or studio art. Our first institute, “Teaching from Works of Art 101,” provides a weeklong intensive and immersive experience that uses engaging and meaningful dialogue to introduce educators to the methodology and process of teaching with artworks, including the use of improvisational skills in the classroom. It includes opportunities for group learning and concludes with a capstone presentation on a work of art in the Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection.

The second institute, “Teaching African American History from Works of Art,” specifically focuses on African American art and artists and the black experience in American history. The purpose of the training is to empower teachers to use works of art featuring African American subjects in order to teach themes in African American history. Using works from Crystal Bridges’ collection and key readings in the field of African American history, teachers explore the themes of race, identity, oppression and resistance. We give teachers the tools and methodologies to teach these key themes in the context of art–highlighting the unique relationship between the fine arts and history and showcasing the value of using works of art to teach in the humanities.

Both institutes train educators to use art as not just a tool for teaching, but as an essential classroom methodology. Since 2013, these institutes have served close to 225 teachers, reaching more than 22,000 students across the nation.

Education is central to Crystal Bridge’s mission, and training educators in arts integration is a key function of the Museum. The impact of arts integration on these teachers’ professional practice and on the lives of their students cannot be overstated. Teaching and learning with artworks lets educators dive deeper into their material and gives students a better understanding of the subject at hand by presenting the material in a more approachable way.

To learn more about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and our Summer Teacher Institutes, visit our website or feel free to call or email the School Programs Department at or 479-657-23192. 

Dr. Nile Blunt serves as head of school programs at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.