March 16, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The expected audience for morning attendance at the Joslyn Art Museum is not, perhaps, thought to be a handful of pint-sized art scholars. But that’s precisely the group of observers that hovered around a Renaissance fresco on a recent Friday morning, chattering about concepts like color, shapes, and how it was that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Michelangelo) could be an artist.

“A museum shouldn’t be a stuffy place, I don’t think,” artist and teacher Therese Straseski says. “It should be a fun place.”

Straseski has led and instructed the Art Adventures program at the Joslyn for 15 years now, in which kids from the ages of 3-5 participate in interactive art activities with their parents every Friday morning. Creative tasks can range anywhere from pouring plaster to mixing color palettes.

“I think art is amazingly important in children,” Straseski says. “Teaching art is about learning to enjoy yourself and love what you do. Maybe I can’t be Rembrandt, but I can teach these kids to enjoy themselves in creating art.”

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Another of Straseski’s passions in her job is the substantial development in her young students’ skill and interest over time. More exposure to art, she believes, helps integrate both sides of the brain immediately in children.

“We absolutely see improvement in our kids,” she says. “When they come as 3-year-olds, concepts are lost on them and they’re just having fun. But as they get older, they start to understand concepts like color and line.”

Parents, according to Straseski, are some of the program’s strongest advocates, especially as art programs are dropped from elementary curriculums due to budget cuts.

Mom and Art Adventures regular Alison Novak, for example, prioritizes the preservation of art’s significance in her kids.

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“I think children are naturally drawn to art because it’s messy and creative,” Novak says. “But I do think they’re very aware of the importance of art and artists, especially as they get older.”

She adds that the interactive aspect of Joslyn’s art program is especially engaging for her 3-year-old daughter, Dagny.

“The experience of art in this program is important because it’s so tactile and allows [my daughter] to use different materials,” Novak says. “It’s not just coming and looking at the art. It’s something to get her involved.”

It’s quite possible, then, that with the efforts of art advocates like Straseski and Novak, a mini-Renaissance is in the making in these small art students—perhaps not in technique, but in the messy and loving creative process.

“Art is about being able to pass on that passion to someone else,” Straseski says with a smile. “That’s the passion in art.”

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