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The Art of the Web

Online art galleries help districts foster visual art programs.

The San Diego (Calif.) Unified School Districts has one of the largest and most vibrant arts programs in the nation with a dedicated visual and performing arts department and 230 arts personnel. But after a particularly successful art exhibit last year that displayed the work of more than 1,000 students, "the district knew we had to do even more to let the community know how the arts are thriving in our schools," says Karen Childress-Evans, department director. Like an increasing number of districts looking for new ways to enhance arts programs, the San Diego district created an online gallery as part of its district Web site. Digital photos of student works in a variety of media, including sketches, paintings, collages or mixed media, are shown on the home page on a rotating basis and added to a permanent online archive. With limitless capacity, online galleries can permanently hold more artwork than schools would ever have physical space for, allowing greater involvement by more students. And since the Internet can be accessed from anywhere, Web galleries enable student work to be viewed around the world. The gallery has only existed for a year, but Childress-Evans says it has become very popular. Artwork from students in the district will continue to be added to this online art exhibit.

Equal Opportunity

Although SDUSD is one of the largest urban districts in the country, the low implementation cost allows even districts of smaller sizes and fewer resources to use online galleries. For example, the Ontario (Ore.) School District includes just 2,800 students but has a substantial online art gallery-the link is displayed prominently on the district's home page under a "Don't Miss" heading. The gallery includes exhibits of classroom projects organized by school level and theme such as "abstact compostions in charcoal" by high school students or "st. Patrick's Day Art" at the elementary level. The gallery also includes a special "Artist's Showcase" section highlighting exemplary artwork, with a description by each student artist. According to the Web site, the goal of the district's gallery is to "express the value of art in education."

The Bellevue (Wash.) School District, which includes about 16,000 students, also recently created an online student art gallery linked to its home page. While still under construction, the gallery already includes exhibits organized by assignment and school, such as elementary students' African-inspired masks, and glass pendants made by middle school students. "Involvement with the gallery continues to build, and there is now an expectation of participation from all art teachers," says Lisa Crubaugh, art curriculum administrator. "Publishing art online is a great way to emphasize the value of student work and display what we do as educators," she says. Crubaugh also notes that another important function of posting artwork online is that it demonstrates the effectiveness of the curriculum. While some districts may carefully select only the "best" art for inclusion in online galleries, Crubaugh says her district posts entire classes of work instead of "exemplary individuals" because the gallery illustrates how students are fulfilling program goals. "Written art curriculum is useless without such examples of student work fulfilling the goals of the program," she adds.

Free Tools

Many districts have taken advantage of free art resources online. Crayola's Web site, for example, has a free adjudicated online gallery with more than 3,500 images from K6 students, as well as educator resources such as lesson plans, art techniques, and themed contests for student artwork to be published in their books. Artsonia, the most substantial school art resource on the Web, is a free site focused on creating online galleries that dubs itself "the largest kids' art museum in the world." It includes more than a million pieces of art, from 3,000 schools in 100 countries. Educators can use Artsonia to create permanent galleries of their students' work, and family or friends can join artist "fan clubs," post comments, and purchase merchandise, such as mugs, high quality prints, or key chains, adorned with any image from any gallery. Fifteen percent of the proceeds are contributed to the school's art program. Artsonia also includes teacher-submitted lesson plans, and it hosts contests by organizations such as Dick Blick Art Materials or Lions Clubs. The 83,000 art projects on display can also be searched by school, media, or artist name. Hoover City (Ala.) Schools' Rocky Ridge Elementary is the top-ranked school in the nation for community involvement on Artsonia, with 1,700 pieces of art and 1,900 fan club members. "There isn't a downside to it," says art teacher Judith Davidson. "It gets the parents involved, and the students' portfolios can grow every year on the site."

"Publishing art online is a great way to emphasize the value of student work and display what we do as educators." -Lisa Crubaugh, art curriculum administrator, Bellevue (Wash.) School District

Galleries to Classrooms

As the Web has introduced new ways to bring classroom art to the world, it also functions in the opposite direction, by bringing art galleries into classrooms. Educators can use the Internet to access more art than ever before to enhance lessons, projects or lectures. And they can use art from museums that could never be visited on a field trip. Many of the world's greatest art museums have recently focused more on creative Web resources, much of them intended for educational applications. For example, officials at the Indianapolis (Ind.) Museum of Art, frustrated that an estimated 85 percent of its collection sat hidden away in storage and looking for new ways to engage the public, spent the past two years digitally photographing more than 50,000 pieces of art and posting them on its new Web site. These include works of African, Native American, and South Pacific art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is just beginning a major initiative to upload its entire collection for educational use. Boston's Museum of Fine Art has online resources such as interactive virtual tours of exhibits featuring Japanese arms and armor, European paintings and Roman sculpture, and an innovative "MyMFA" feature that allows educators or students to gather any of the 300,000 museum items into a personalized digital collection. The Louvre, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Gallery of Art also have similar online exhibitions. Still other art education Web technologies have been developed, such as ArtSiteNet, a combination Web site and software program with a variety of functions. The software can be purchased for classroom or district use and features a large database of art and classroom project ideas, along with tools to create online student galleries and portfolios as part of a district Web site.

Web galleries enable student work to be viewed around the world.

Showcasing the Arts

A recent study by the National School Board Association and Americans for the Arts found that, among many other benefi ts, students involved in rigorous arts education were four times more likely to be recognized for academic excellence in other areas. Nevertheless, many district arts programs continue to struggle to be viewed as equally important to other subjects. Some districts have cited the increased pressure from the federal No Child Left Behind law as one reason they have cut arts budgets. While NCLB officially includes the arts as a core subject area, it stops short of requirements, and its emphasis on test scores can often lead to a lessened focus on the arts. "NCLB has been a double-edged sword," says Childress- Evans, "on the one hand rightfully acknowledging the arts as a core discipline, but on the other hand not providing increased funding for improvement." Creating online student art galleries and using the art found on the Web are simple ways to foster district arts programs and require very little, if any, funding.

Kurt O. Dyrli is a contributing writer for District Administration.