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Johnson Educators Spark Learning at All Levels

August 23rd, 2013

The Johnson Museum is justifiably proud of our rich history providing  a wide variety of high-quality programs for local schools. Starting in 1975, two years after the Museum opened, the education department has offered learning opportunities for students from the pre-K through high school levels. A dedicated staff of three and our docents work with more than nine thousand students annually, from the Ithaca area and well beyond. The programs also provide valuable experiences for Cornell student interns who assist with teaching and workshops in the Museum for pre-K–12 students.

OMNI (Objects and Their Makers: New Insights)—our unique program for students studying global cultures in grades 3, 5, 7, and 9—is one of our most rewarding school programs. Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Sheila Hearne Endowment, OMNI builds an understanding and appreciation for the crucial role that visual arts play in societies around the world. Students learn to identify art objects as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places. Then they create their own works of art using similar processes and materials. 

“We are so fortunate to have the Johnson Museum and the OMNI program,” says Pamela Bryce, a third grade teacher at Buckley Elementary School in Lansing. “The hands-on exploration of the artifacts is very effective, and the Museum visit is terrific, giving students a feel for the different aspects of the culture.”

Museum educators also help achieve a primary focus of teachers at all grade levels: writing fluency. Using artworks to develop visual acuity and encourage reflection meets New York State Common Core Learning Standards to advance writing in every subject area. Gallery experiences support and strengthen key literacy skills such as observation, description, building vocabulary, and writing.

Serving youth with developmental disabilities and behavioral and learning issues is another important aspect of our mission. Using interactive conversational sessions, educators introduce new ideas about art and culture to underserved youth in downtown Ithaca, neighboring rural school districts, and juvenile detention facilities. The visible storage gallery is extremely popular with these students who enthusiastically used the HFJArtGuide app to interact with art on view. Youth advocate and retired Judge Marjorie Olds praises our programs as “reaching the most disenfranchised young people” and giving them “a glimpse of the larger, richer world to which they are connected.” The Johnson is grateful to Lisa Yang ’74 for supporting these valuable outreach programs.

The BOCES Turning Points Program serves students with emotional disabilities. Over the past few years, students in this program have explored the Morgan Japanese Garden and art in the collection, sketching, writing, and talking about what they have seen. The monthly visits have established a continuity to their learning. Carol Hockett, the Museum’s coordinator of school and family programs, says, “To see the same students once a month, sometimes more, as they continue visits to the Museum every school year, has a huge impact as students have many different experiences while developing a comfort level in a new environment.” 

The Johnson Museum is also a vital part of Kids Discover the Trail! (KDT), the collaboration between the Ithaca Public Education Initiative, the Ithaca City School District, and the Discovery Trail that brings every district student in pre-K through grade 5 to the eight Discovery Trail sites over the course of their elementary school years. Johnson educators visit fourteen pre-K classrooms every year to introduce the children to the Museum and to ways of looking at art. Every class also makes a visit to the Johnson, the only art museum on the Trail. 

Throughout the Johnson’s history, Museum educators have created innovative and imaginative programs to maximize the educational value of our exhibitions and collections, and we enthusiastically build on that impressive record every year. 

How you can help

Giving Opportunities to Support Education

Teacher demand for the Museum’s education programs is high. We are seeking additional funding to support transportation costs for K-12 students, many of whom have a bus ride of half an hour or more to visit the Johnson. Museum staff also wants to maximize the time educators and schoolchildren have for their visits. Being able to financially support opening the Museum on occasional Mondays to accommodate classes that would be unable to visit otherwise is a high priority.


Last year Museum education programs served more than 9,000 pre-K–12 teachers and students in 38 schools; 12,727 university students and faculty from Cornell and area colleges; and 14 agencies serving at-risk youth, people with physical and mental disabilities, and residents of addiction-recovery facilities, among others. 


The Johnson Museum’s outreach beyond Cornell reflects a deep commitment to the important civic role played by art museums. We are dedicated to providing the same quality of learning and exposure to a broad range of artworks to all our audiences.

Please e-mail Matt Braun or call 607 254-4624 for more information.