George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Leadership

The Art Zone: The National Gallery of Art


I've recently exchanged some emails with Donna Mann, from the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC. She and her colleagues in the museum's education division have spent a lot of time developing many wonderful resources for educators, parents, and children.

Many of you may already know about the museum's excellent lesson plans, student activities, and printable worksheets available for free downloading. In addition, teachers anywhere in the country may browse and order free loan materials (teaching packets, DVDs, videos, and other media) for classroom use. All the loan materials, as well as the online resources, are easily sorted by curriculum, subject, and artist.

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A virtual field trip to the National Gallery of Art is also an excellent way to introduce arts education into your curriculum. Choose a tour by medium -- painting, sculpture, photography -- or learn about a specific artist or artistic theme through an in-depth, online investigation.

Especially for Kids

The National Gallery of Art has made a concerted effort to develop online content for children. You absolutely must see what it has produced. The NGA Kids section of the museum's Web site offers kid-friendly features, bright colors, and "Oh, cool!" tools that allow children (and adults) to express their artistic creativity.

What's really extraordinary about NGA Kids is the high level of interactivity, as well as its purposeful design -- including few instructions and design features -- which came out of solid beta testing. According to Mann, "Our emphasis has shifted from the early 'adventures in art' or animated-story approach -- telling children about art -- to The Art Zone, where interactive tools encourage children to create designs of their own."

My favorite Art Zone activity is the new Jungle interactive. Inspired by the paintings of French artist Henri Rousseau, you mix and match colors and characters, control the background environment by changing lighting, and arrange and "size" jungle plants and animals. For young children (or tentative artists), the Auto button generates a random jungle scene that will get you started.

Other Art Zone programs include Flow (a motion-painting machine), SwatchBox (a tool for mixing and drawing with a multitude of colors), and 3-D Twirler. The collage-style interactives and some of the color-in-motion modules may be enjoyed by those without highly developed hand-eye coordination or traditional drawing skills.

Though not originally designed for use in the classroom, NGA Kids has a huge audience of teachers who use it as a curriculum resource. With over 8.2 million hits last year, it's also one of the most popular sections of the National Gallery of Art site. (One note: Taking full advantage of the interactive features will require that you have some common plug-ins (Shockwave, Flash, and QuickTime), as well as a broadband connection. Those of you with a color printer will be able to print out artwork.)

Please do take the time to check out The Art Zone and let us know about your favorite arts-education resources and lesson plans. I'll share a middle school teacher's example. She used Frank Stella's Jarama II to start her unit on using sports as a theme in abstract art.