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Night at the Museum program spotlights budding artists

Four boys stand in front of art display
Seeing their art on display at the museum boosts kids' confidence and self-esteem.

As an internationally acclaimed museum, the Akron Art Museum is famous for its massive collection of art created by virtuosos like Norman Rockwell and Cindy Sherman.

But six times a year, the museum showcases special pieces of art created by a different kind of artist: local children.

As part of the Night at the Museum program, which is supported in part by the Millennium Fund for Children, the Akron Art Museum hosts one-night-only exhibitions in its grand lobby to display the artwork of young students who have previously visited the museum on school tours.

After touring the museum and being inspired by its many art galleries, students create their own masterpieces in the classroom. The Night at the Museum program brings the experience full circle by giving kids and their families the chance to see their own creations in a museum setting.

"Students can give their families a tour of the exhibition based on the docent-led tour they received on their field trip," said Alison Caplan, the museum's director of education. "It really builds their self-confidence and helps families see the museum in a new light."

The exhibitions are held on Free Thursdays, which allows nearly 1,000 families throughout the year to experience the museum's programming at no cost in an unintimidating, welcoming environment.

"One of our priorities is to reach out and include those people who wouldn't normally think of themselves as the museum-going type," said development officer Eliza Williams. "It breaks down the barriers that people have and makes this an accessible place. That is a beautiful thing."

In addition, the program helps reinforce the concepts students are learning in the classroom, including math. Caplan said many of the schools' art and math teachers team up to demonstrate important skills like geometry through art.

"It teaches those concepts in an accessible way," Caplan said, adding that it also fosters creativity. "There is a real connection between art experience at an early age and creativity later in life. We really want to promote that."

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the Night at the Museum program is the confidence boost it gives to budding artists. Aretha Valentin, outreach coordinator and club director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve, said she's seen firsthand how participating in this program has positively influenced the kids in her clubs.

"Our kids usually do their artwork and take it home. Some families may hang it up, but many times (they don't)," Valentin said. "By having their work displayed in an art museum, it gives them pride in the work they've done. It makes them feel good."

She said the program is especially beneficial for kids who dream of becoming an artist themselves.

"For our members who are really passionate about art, I believe this lets them see what it would be like for their artwork to be hanging in a museum one day," she said. "It builds their self-esteem and encourages them to keep going if art is what their passion is."

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