Newspaper article International New York Times

A Museum That Brings Paintings to Children ; Jordan's Traveling Gallery Helps Disadvantaged Youth Appreciate Fine Art

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Museum That Brings Paintings to Children ; Jordan's Traveling Gallery Helps Disadvantaged Youth Appreciate Fine Art

Article excerpt

The program brings together government agencies, museum professionals, artists, students, parents and teachers to give disadvantaged children access to art.

Art education might not seem like the greatest concern for Jordan, a country plagued by a dearth of water, oil and other national resources, nearly 30 percent youth unemployment, high poverty rates and an overwhelming influx of Syrian refugees. Still, believing in the inherent value of art and its potential to enrich daily life, the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman is working hard to make art accessible.

In 2009, the national gallery started its Touring Museum. Still going strong, it aims to foster art appreciation and to increase visual literacy among Jordanians who have little exposure to fine art.

Run in cooperation with the Education Ministry and financially supported by the Ministries of Culture and Planning and International Cooperation, the program brings together government agencies, museum professionals, artists, students, parents, teachers and school administrators to give disadvantaged children unprecedented access to art.

On a recent sunny day, elementary and middle school children in Ajloun, a town 45 kilometers, or 30 miles, northwest of Amman, watched with rapt attention as the artist Suheil Baqaeen gesticulated wildly at several paintings propped against a row of easels, pointing out their colors and forms. "Red, blue, mountains, circles," the students clamored in response to his questions about what they saw in the works.

Following an animated discussion about the basics of visual art, the children picked up the pastels that the program provided and began energetically creating their own masterpieces. Although they were free to follow their imaginations, many copied or reinterpreted the works on view or else chose to depict the landscape surrounding their school, dominated by Ajloun Castle, a medieval fortress.

The atmosphere was uproarious as children ran back and forth to the row of easels, proudly holding their drawings next to the originals for comparison. A few of the older boys at first acted as if they were too cool to draw. Yet, in the end, they, too, produced thoughtful depictions of their homes, their friends, and the rolling hills of Ajloun.

For many of these children, Mr. Baqaeen said, "today is their first chance to see art and their first opportunity to pick up a crayon."

Despite pervasive poverty -- 14.2 percent of families live below the poverty line, according to the most recent Central Intelligence Agency statistics -- it is not necessarily a lack of financial resources that prevents parents from buying their children art supplies. …

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