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Student Exhibition Tours

Sun Valley Museum of Art

Exhibition Tours invite students into the Sun Valley Museum of Art to tour the exhibition, discuss the artwork and exhibition theme, and do a hands-on project. Tours of The Museum are designed to allow students to engage with art and ideas through object-based conversation, and self-expression through individual art-making, providing teachers with an experiential learning opportunity that often links and reinforces curricular themes.

Over 1,150 students from Earnest Hemingway STEAM School, Sun Valley Community School, Syringa Mountain School, Pioneer Montessori School, Sage School, Big Wood School, and students from Hailey and Alturas Elementary with Idaho I Have a Dream, participated in tours. There were three different exhibitions throughout the year that explored Gardens, Dams, and the visual representation of Sound. Tours were led by Director of Learning and Engagement, Sophie Sawyers.

We selected this project because it supplements school curriculum and enhances education.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

What is an art museum? How can the viewer `read` a work of art as text? How do artists work?

Students participating in the exhibition tours engaged in conversation and discussion of artworks. Students considered the purpose of an art museum and cultivated an appreciation and understanding of different perspectives and ideas.

Through observation and conversation students gained insight into the meaning of artworks and the artistic process, engaging in art criticism and visual thinking strategies. The guide asked questions that encouraged students to observe and analyze artwork developing critical thinking skills, visual literacy, and aesthetic appreciation. Students deepened their understanding of art as artifact and text by relating artistic ideas and works with personal experience and cultural, societal, and historical knowledge. Students expressed themselves freely, creating and sharing individual thoughts, listening to their peers, and contributing to conversation with further questions. Following the tour students had an opportunity to learn how artists work. The hands-on project for each exhibition allowed students to experiment with forms, structures, materials, concepts, media, and art-making approaches that related to the artwork and themes they observed in the Museum.

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

#2 Organize and develop artistic ideas and work: Students created art projects connected to exhibition themes, such as representing synesthetic experiences through watercolor and pastel works inspired by music. This required students to choose a medium, listen intently, and translate one sense into another.

#6 Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work: Students were asked open-ended questions designed to direct their attention towards the artwork and its underlying themes. Students were encouraged to explore and analyze the artwork, reinforcing close looking and critical thinking skills.

Students who have been to The Museum before commented that the space looked different than their previous visit. This observation prompted conversations about the purpose of museums, providing visitors with an appreciation of varied forms of expression and exposure to different ideas.

#8 Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work: Students drew on personal experiences when discussing artwork, recognizing familiar objects and images that helped them interpret the artist’s intent and meaning.


For many students, their first exposure to professional art and artists occurs when they visit the Museum on a field trip. Sophie Sawyers, Director of Learning and Engagement, recalls one of her favorite moments at an offsite event when a little girl, who had previously visited the Museum with her class, enthusiastically exclaimed “Wait, you work at the Museum? I’ve been there!” This interaction highlighted the realization that the Museum serves as a community resource that extends beyond its physical walls. Sophie remembered this student as someone who quietly observed the artwork and listened to her classmates’ comments during her initial visit. Months later, when Sophie and the student encountered each other in a different setting, the student eagerly participated in creating a collage and collaborated with other children who were also engrossed in the creative process.


To enhance meaningful discussions about the exhibition artwork and the art process, we have found success in utilizing Visual Thinking Strategies and Dialogical Teaching methods. Visual Thinking Strategies uses three key questions: “What is going on in this work?”, “What makes you say that?”, and “What else can we say about this artwork?”. Despite the simplicity of these questions, they elicit diverse responses and foster critical thinking and shared observations during discussions. Dialogical Teaching empowers students to drive discussion through observation and inference, while facilitators provide relevant information as the conversation unfolds. This approach allows tour leaders to guide student attention toward specific exhibition themes or artists’ ideas. Through these strategies, student visitors are empowered to freely express themselves verbally, making connections to their experiences beyond the art museum.

In addition to conversation, the hands-on portion of Student Exhibition Tours plays a crucial role in extending the student’s experience. The children always light up when they learn that they will get an opportunity to create their own artwork. Encouraging a creative hands-on outlet for self-expression provides another avenue for student engagement. Often, our most quiet conversationalists are the most focused during the creative process.