Transforming Lives with Art: Speaks with the Henry Art Gallery

The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle recently won a Golden Apple Award for its partnership with Roosevelt, a local high school. caught up with Halinka Wodzicki, the Henry's education coordinator, to learn more about this award-winning program that's married art and education.

By Megan Driscoll

halinka wodzicki, henry art gallery, golden apple awards When did the Henry's partnership with Roosevelt begin, and what opportunities does it offer for Roosevelt students?

Halinka Wodzicki: The program began about 11 years ago, and it was sparked by discussions that I had with Roosevelt High School teachers in the language arts department. We were really interested in seeing what role a contemporary art museum could play in a high school student's coming of age and maturity.

We developed this program because we both believe that in order for students to find their own voices and independence, they need to work outside their comfort zones. Since the Henry exhibits primarily contemporary art, an art of our time, we're often dealing with very challenging issues and ideas. This allows us to place people in a zone where they need to analyze their own thoughts and ideas.

So we decided that we would put our high school students in the role of being teachers and guides to their peers and to younger school age students. That way they could not only have this experience of learning about what art can be for themselves, but also help to start a conversation with other children. What are the goals for the program?

HW: The idea is for teachers and me to work with the unlikely students, those who may never have set foot in a gallery before and who may not see an art museum as a place where anything really exciting can take place. When we do that, there's this incredible opportunity to really have an impact on students. So, broadly, the goal is to open minds and get them to see that there are these infinite possibilities when you're looking at art and analyzing and interpreting it.

We hope to inspire these young people to see something new, something unexpected, and to jolt them out of their comfort zones and change them in some way. Are you considering expanding the program to include other high schools in the Seattle area?

HW: Yes, we are. I'm currently working with Shore Crest High School, which is in the Shoreline School District. I'm working across departments there to see if it would work for them to send students to the Henry. The plan is to just grow incrementally to include other schools.

halinka wodzicki, henry art gallery, roosevelt high school Does the Henry have any other current or in-development community education initiatives?

HW: Well, the Roosevelt program is more kind of a K-12 initiative. We do have other community education programs, but it's hard for me to speak as specifically about the others.

The Roosevelt program is the most focused and the one that has the most impact. I also work with the teachers from many schools on teacher training and how to apply our exhibitions into their classroom curricula.

Our education programs are very targeted, and we prefer to have a deep impact on a school or a group that we work with rather than 'fairy dusting' as I call it, scattering ourselves thin. So when we do programming and partnerships, they're involved in order to have a sustained impact. What types of educational opportunities does the Henry offer for current UW students?

HW: A new aspect to the student guide program is that I have recently started accepting UW interns as guides. They're trained to be exhibition guides in a different program, receiving university credit for participating. It's a year-long commitment for them, and what we're starting to do is have them be direct mentors to the high school student guides because they're really close in age.

There's this really nice thing that happens when young people slightly older than each other influence and talk to each other, and have that direct impact. So these UW interns are starting to be integrated into the high school student guide program in a mentoring capacity. I'm really enjoying those relationships being built because some of the high school student guides that we get haven't really spent much time on the university campus.

Even though it's an honors project, some students that are selected to be a part of it may not see themselves as being college-bound. I like the idea that because we're situated on the UW campus we can start to engage these students who may not see themselves in a four-year college and show them that they can find a place for themselves. Many of our readers may be interested in visiting the Henry. What not-to-be-missed programming is coming up this year?

HW: In my department we have an educator workshop coming up on March 5th, which is going be looking at teaching educators and can be attended by any person who sees themselves as an educator - parent, kindergarten teacher, university faculty, etc. In that workshop we'll be teaching educators how to infuse art into their teaching.

For exhibition programming, I recommend your readers visit the Henry Art Gallery website. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about the Roosevelt partnership and other educational programming at the Henry Art Gallery.

HW: This program is probably the most gratifying thing that I've ever been involved in. I've been in this field for over 20 years, and I never cease to be amazed at how much impact this type of experience can have on a young person. Almost every training session is a really deep emotional experience for me as a teacher to watch the transformation that takes place in these students.

They come to me with a lot of teenage angst and not really wanting to be in a certain place, seeing this as a chance for them to maybe skip school and do something different. Maybe they heard it's kind of cool, a good way to get a little bit of extra credit, etc.

So they come to me that way, but then the more time they spend with the art and the environment that we're able to provide for them, learning about how to engage others in conversation and dialogue, I see them grow and mature in front of me. And it's a deeply gratifying and very powerful experience. Everybody here at the Henry is very proud that we're able to offer that to students, to watch their lives be changed.

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