Program offers free visual art studio classes for students with disabilities

MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University art education students reimagined how to teach their annual Side By Side art workshops virtually due to COVID-19 closures. 

Side by Side is made possible through a grant provided by Arts for All Kentucky, a nonprofit organization that provides arts education and inclusion programs for individuals with disabilities. For the past four years, Debi Danielson, the director of the Murray Art Guild, has invited Murray State’s Dr. Rebecca Williams, assistant professor of art education, to partner in completing the program. 

Murray State University art education students offered a series of virtual art workshops to local students with disabilities for the 2020 Side by Side program.
Murray State University art education students offered a series of virtual art workshops to local students with disabilities for the 2020 Side by Side program.

The Side by Side program typically invites students with disabilities from Calloway County and Murray Independent schools to participate in four free, 90-minute visual art studio classes at Murray State. At the end of the studio classes, Danielson pairs the young artists with artists in the community. Together, they complete a collaborative artwork. Side By Side ends with an exhibition of all of the artwork completed throughout the program. 

Usually, teacher candidates enrolled in ART 341 (Inclusive Art Education for Diverse Learners) design and teach the four art classes in studios on Murray State’s campus. When the class learned in mid-March that the campus would be transitioning to online and alternative delivery instruction for the remainder of the spring semester, Williams and the teacher candidates innovatively collaborated with the young artists and their families to rework their Side By Side workshops as virtual art classes. 

The redesign began with assembling art supply packages to deliver to each participant. The art classes were hosted on Zoom, which allowed the teachers to lead group discussions, demonstrate art techniques and work in breakout rooms with individual families to provide carefully differentiated art instruction.

“While it was disappointing and challenging not to be in the University’s art studios with our students, each of our young artists with disabilities was still able to thoughtfully engage with art experiences within a positive learning environment,” Williams said. “As a result of the teacher candidates’ creativity and critical thinking skills, the group is one of very few grant awardees who will be able to implement their entire Side By Side program.”

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