Emily Schreiner
Emily Schreiner
Associate Curator of Family & Community Learning
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Arts Integration Outside of School

An interview with Emily Schreiner

By Christopher Skokna
Contributing Writer, LearnNow

With modern education’s focus on testing and core competencies, the visual arts often get left behind. However, arts integration—that is, combining arts disciplines with traditional subjects in order to improve learning—is happening not only in schools but also at the nation’s many art museums. Emily Schreiner, the associate curator of education for family and community learning at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, says that her institution works constantly to help Philadelphia’s children learn through arts integration—and straight-up arts instruction. LearnNow talks with her about arts education, arts integration, the museum’s role in Philadelphia’s civic life, and more in the following interview.

Q: Should all kids study the arts as a part of their basic education? If so, why?

A: I think kids should be exposed to as many things as possible in their early years, and the arts are part of that. When it’s not happening in the school environment, we need to be creative about how to get those experiences to them.

The art budgets of the School District of Philadelphia have been cut—we’re in a yucky situation here—and so are schools across the country. Classroom teachers are being pushed to do a lot, including the arts. Some don’t have much, or any, art training. We try to step in and support that at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by creating programs aligned with grade-level curriculum and learning standards. We also have a teacher resources center where teachers come and work with museum staff to develop ideas.

In our gallery discussions, there’s very rarely a right or wrong answer when you look at art. It’s very different from what adults get at work and kids get at school.

We work with elementary kids who don’t really know the right way to hold a paintbrush. They haven’t been taught basic art techniques. They’re not getting it at school or home. Budget-wise, it’s just not happening.

As a museum, we have a real role to play as a civic institution. We bus in low-income families monthly for our family programs in the studios and galleries. For many families, this is their first time visiting a museum.

I find that the pace of looking at and talking about art is really important—and much slower than the typical pace of life. Kids and families slow down, look closely, listen, collect their thoughts, share them, ask questions. These skills are antithetical to the fast-paced society we live in. But they’re totally required for an innovative mind-set—and much needed in today’s world. In fact, these are some of the biggest goals of schools: raising a generation of problem-solvers.

Slowing down and listening translates not just to IQ but also to EQ—emotional intelligence—which is really important. 

Q: Is arts integration fair to the arts? Should the arts be taught as stand-alone subjects?

A: As a museum educator, I have an inherently integrated approach. We learn about art in the context in which the objects were made, and we value what prior knowledge kids bring to the table. We start with that, in fact, and build from there. When kids say, “This reminds me to X,” it means they’ve made a personal connection, and the information sticks that much more.

Ideally, the arts should be taught as both standalone subjects and integrated across disciplines. Learning about techniques and the arts as a subject—that’s what makes it art and not just history.

In an ideal world, we would see both. That’s why we do a lot of art-making and hands-on activities to go along with the gallery experience. Kids get a more well-rounded experience by looking, talking, listening, observing, and creating.

The cut in stand-alone art classes at schools, and the move to have classroom teachers integrate the arts across disciplines can’t compare to stand-alone art classes. As valuable as the move from STEM to STEAM is, it’s not the same as kids going to art class three times a week. STEAM—that is, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, plus Art and Design—is great, but it shouldn’t replace stand-alone art classes.

Learn More

STEM to STEAM, Rhode Island School of Design.

Arts Bridges: Building Literacy Through an Integrated Arts Collaborative Model (2006-2007). The School District of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership.

New Horizons for Learning: Arts in Education (2006). Johns Hopkins University.

Burnaford, Gail. Arts Integration Frameworks, Research & Practice: A Literature Review (2007).