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Boise Art Museum

Boise Art Museum

From September to May, approximately 8,000 Idaho students and their teachers experienced a school tour at the Boise Art Museum through our Free School Tour Program with Transportation Reimbursement. At the Museum, trained docents led students through interactive discussions about the work on display in the galleries, followed by a hands-on art activity in the BAM education studios that reinforced concepts discussed in the tour. Each multi-disciplinary school tour featured themes based on changing exhibitions, addressing a spectrum of historical periods, artistic media and styles. Materials were provided free of charge and Museum admission was waived for all participants. Transportation Reimbursement covered the costs of travel to BAM from outlying areas so that rural and low-income schools could participate. The program increased access to the arts for Idaho students, provided an opportunity for students to experience visual art first-hand in a museum setting and helped teachers integrate art content and techniques into their curricula. This program furthered BAM’s goals to promote the enjoyment, appreciation and understanding of the visual arts through comprehensive exhibition and educational programs serving a broad public audience. The program suited all learning styles to create meaningful learning experiences with original works of art.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How do people contribute to awareness & understanding of their lives & their communities through art-making?

Through interactions with and analysis of art through guided activities and discussion with BAM docents, students developed ideas and understandings of society, culture, and history. Students compared uses of art in a variety of societal, cultural, and historical contexts and made connections to uses of art in contemporary and local contexts.

Every in-gallery tour experience was followed with hands-on art making to reinforce earlier discussion and observations, encouraging students to make meaning by investigating and developing awareness of their perceptions, knowledge and experiences. Students utilized inquiry methods of observation, research, and experimentation to explore unfamiliar subjects through art-making.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Student survey responses showed the development of their ideas and understanding of visual art in different societal, cultural and historical contexts.

  • “My favorite part from the [Crow’s Shadow] tour was learning that the symbol of a bear means a mother. Because mothers are strong.”
  • “The most memorable thing about the tour was learning about the different Native American tribes.”
  • “James Castle had no art training; he was deaf…but he still was a good artist.”
  • “My classmates all had a diverse array of opinions. Each individual had their own interpretation of the art presented. What meant forlorn to one person might have meant jubilation to another.”

Their responses also demonstrated that the art-making component of the tour helped them to connect their knowledge gained from the tours with the process of making their own art.

  • “When James Castle drew the areas he was in or stuff that happened in his life, it gave me the idea to draw something that happened in my life.”
  • “Castle’s perspective and style inspired my artwork, and my artwork was a building in Mexico.”
  • “I made mountains on an envelope. I used recycled materials like James Castle.
  • “I learned a new way to make a print. I made a print of me and my best friend.”


One of the unique outcomes of the Free School Tour Program at BAM is demonstrating the incredible attention spans and interest levels of even the youngest learners when engaged in meaningful learning experiences. Repeatedly we find and respect that children have much more capacity and ability than many adults believe. As an example, one of our favorite moments took place during a “Donuts: On the Surface” tour. The tour focused on BAM’s installation of 483 highly decorated ceramic donut sculptures. A school group comprised of students ages 4 and 5 came to the Museum, proudly carrying “donut journals” they had created in the classroom in preparation for their visit to BAM. Sitting in front of the donut installation, students participated in a lively conversation facilitated by a BAM docent. They then eagerly created their own decorated paper-donut artwork in BAM’s studios. Still wanting more, after the hour they had spent at BAM, the students asked if they could go back to the donut wall to draw donuts in their donut journals. We were happy to provide students with the opportunity to more deeply connect with the artwork and to personalize their experience based on their interests. They spent another 45 minutes completely immersed in drawing donuts in their donut journals. The students’ enthusiasm surprised and surpassed the expectations of the teachers and parents alike.


Whether students were experiencing BAM for the first time, or if they were already familiar with the Museum, students had impactful and memorable visual arts experiences. Tours of “Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts at 25,” “Construction, Deconstruction, and Abstraction: The Art of James Castle,” “A New State of Matter: Contemporary Glass,” and “Jae Yong Kim: Donut Ever Forget Me,” helped students see the world from different perspectives, explore artwork from the standpoint of the artist, and make connections to their own lives and the greater world. Intentional, cross-curricular connections help make the tour content relatable to students, and their particular interests and life experiences, creating deeper personal connections.

When teachers call out the growth and curiosity they see in their students, we know that this program is reaching participants and positively impacting the education of Idaho’s youth. The enthusiasm and engagement of students at BAM continues to be one of the aspects of the project that works best for teachers. The following comments from participating teachers support the high quality and continuing success of the program.

  • “Students connected to the artists’ stories. They thought about how they could tell their own history/story through the art piece.”
  • “We learned about our personal histories, heritage, ancestry, and the cultural influences in our community.”
  • “It helped students make connections with the world outside the classroom, exposed them to original works of art, helped them reflect on art making processes.”
  • “Seeing art displayed at a museum makes our studies more legitimate. It makes what we are studying come to life. The studio time brings it home to them.”
  • “I really liked all of the discussion and questions to help students make a personal connection with the art.”
  • “Many of the students have never been to an art museum. It was a great experience.”