Jamie Pettit

Kindergarten students might be more concerned with finger painting than with paintings from the Italian Renaissance, but this year they will have more opportunities to explore the works at the Blanton Museum of Art. The Burdine Johnson Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to the Blanton Museum of Art to support the museum’s initiatives to expand its K-12 programs. The Art Central program, which supports museum visits for K-12 schools, provides students with transportation to and from their schools and teachers with comprehensive educational materials to prepare the students for their museum experience. The foundation’s grant will allow the Blanton to support tours with more schools in Travis and Hayes counties each year, said museum spokeswoman Kathleen Stimpert. The Blanton education department works closely with the school teachers to optimize the museum experience, with the goal of drawing connections between students’ lives and the world around them, Stimpert said. Jamie Pettit, an art teacher at Zilker Elementary School, has participated in the Blanton’s K-12 program for eight years. She said she was excited to learn the Burdine Johnson Foundation is making efforts to expand the program. “The Blanton offers amazing tours that teach students art beyond the surface,” Pettit said. Zilker Elementary sends its fifth grade class to the Blanton four times a year, free of cost to its students and teachers. Jennifer Fleischman, an art teacher at Caldwell Elementary School, also takes her students on regular tours with the help of the Art Central program. “For many of the children this is the first time for them to come to a museum,” Stimpert said. “We are so thankful that the Burdine Johnson Foundation has an interest in outreach to students, and particularly those students that might not have the opportunity to visit a museum otherwise.” Foundation trustee Bill Johnson said the organization has always been committed to art education for school-aged children in Austin and its surrounding areas. “The foundation’s gift is a continuation of longtime support [for] the Blanton’s educational programs,” Johnson said. In 2010, the Art Central program allowed more than 11,000 students from 125 schools to visit the museum, including 3,800 students that come from lower socioeconomic schools that are traditionally under-served in the arts. The museum has served more than 3,200 K-12 students so far in the first quarter of this fiscal year and, with the help of this grant, the number of visiting students will continue to increase, Stimpert said.