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Art Museum of WVU serves as regional education resource

WVU medical students study detail through art at the Art Museum of WVU

During public visiting hours, the Art Museum of West Virginia University is a sanctuary of peace and culture, where visitors can view regional and international artwork in a welcoming and professional environment. In the hours the museum is closed to the public, it welcomes hundreds of students each month to use its exhibits and resources as an outlet for learning.

“We welcome students as young as pre-school to those in medical school at the university,” said Joy Ice, director of the museum. “Our art collection provides us the ability to tailor the museum visit to each group.”

Heather Harris, educational programs manager, works directly with teachers interested in bringing their classes to the museum to mold their experience according to age and current curriculum. Many subjects and themes that teachers cover in the classroom can be reinforced in the museum’s galleries. 

“In my role as museum educator, it is my job to make sure that what we do is relevant and meaningful for each unique population we serve,” Harris said. “For example, when kindergarteners visit, we talk about colors, shapes and lines, using hands-on manipulatives to sustain interest and focus. On a recent visit from an undergraduate social work class, we discussed museums as assets to the community and their role in social-emotional well-being. It’s all about tailoring to the group’s needs.”

During early fall, the museum welcomed more than 500 students ranging from high school art classes to university classes in public history, political science, art history and education thanks to the “Shepard Fairey: Work Against the Clampdown” exhibition. Fairey, a contemporary street artist and activist, created the Barack Obama “Hope” poster during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. His work covers a range of topics, from political corruption to environmental issues.

The museum’s ongoing exhibition, “Impulse: A Trip Inside,” explores human beings and their innate need to create. The exhibition is ideal for exploring themes of world culture, human nature and imagination. The 20th biennial West Virginia Juried Exhibition by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History is also on display at the museum until Feb. 11, giving students the opportunity to explore West Virginia art and subjects surrounding these works.

“The scope of artwork at the museum gives us a wide-range of possibilities when it comes to planning a visit,” Ice said. “When students come here, the experience is inquiry-based. They aren’t coming here to get a lecture about a piece of art. We encourage students to talk about what they see, how it makes them feel and what it means. They’re asking questions and exploring art together.”

School children work on crafts during an educational visit to the Art Museum of WVU

Students also complete hands-on activities that relate to the exhibition and themes their teacher has decided to focus on as part of their visit to the museum. Young visitors viewing the Fairey exhibit replicated the artist’s megaphone with the topics they wanted to amplify, while medical school students sketch small portions of artwork based on a classmate’s description as an exercise in attention to detail.

“There’s really no right or wrong in these activities, but we’re supporting them in their curiosity, imagination and learning, and the experience is really positive for students,” Ice said. “Many students find through this experience that they can use art as a voice for their message. It’s more in-depth and meaningful than some of them had previously thought.”

School group tours to the museum are free, and the museum can accommodate 50 students at a time. Questions about museum tours can be directed to Harris, at To request a tour, visit

“There’s no substitute for having an encounter with a work of art in person,” Ice said. “You can see a work of art on a computer screen or in a textbook, but it’s not the same thing no matter how good the picture is. When you see actual artwork, there’s a reaction. We’re happy to facilitate that moment for so many students.”