The Imperial Valley Desert Museum’s signature community outreach program is a hands-on ceramic art program aimed at understanding and celebrating the unique cultural traditions of indigenous ceramic pottery production in the Imperial Valley. The Coiled Clay program was piloted by a 2011-2012 grant from the Imperial Valley Community Foundation. During the 2012-2013 school year, a second grant was used to expand the coiled clay program into the signature public program it has become.
To create a viable engaging, hands-on activity to support existing art curriculum in the county school systems, Museum staff took artifacts and educational curriculum into classrooms where students had the opportunity to study original artifacts. The museum introduced art concepts of shape and form associated with traditional native crafts. The museum provided clay and instruction in coiled-clay techniques and students styles and techniques create ceramic art based on the styles and techniques used by the indigenous population who first lived in the Southern California deserts.
Measured outcomes were aimed to serve 12-15 home school students at one home school program and 330 art students in nine classrooms at three high schools. It was anticipated that the program would have two components, the production of 3-dimensional coiled clay ceramics and the production of 2-dimensional visual arts. Owing to the success of the pilot program last year, we also anticipated serving younger students during community programs.
Over the course of the grant program museum staff visited 12 classrooms. This included Holtville High School, Central High School, and home school programs in Holtville and El Centro. A total of 236 students were served in their classrooms.
What was unanticipated during the grant cycle was the interest and participation of home school programs. Three home school programs participated in the grant, the Freedom Academy in Holtville, the California Virtual Academy, and the Imperial Valley Home School Academy, a program of the El Centro Elementary School District. The home schools each arranged for multiple museum visits to their classrooms and two of them scheduled complimentary field trips to the museum. The extended interaction with the home school programs led to the tailoring of our grant program to meet their specific individual curriculum-based needs.
There were 1115 documented participants in the coiled clay program that the museum ran with the small grant from the Imperial Valley Community Foundation. This number is nearly three times the number of students served in 2011-2012. Of these, 268 were youth aged 14-22, the target audience of the grant. This year, we found our most receptive audience to be youth ages 7-10. Both at the museum and at public festivals the connection, attention span, and success of younger children was noted. The museum has begun to implement programs to serve younger children, but trained education staff is noticeably lacking.
The majority of students who participate in the coil-clay program are younger children and adults. The museum has been very successful at fairs and festivals in Imperial Valley. In fact, we are often overwhelmed with the response to our hands-on coiled-clay tent. We also noted this year that a significant percentage of student who do coil clay projects at our tent during fairs and festivals are older high school students who have previously worked with our program in a classroom or at the museum.
The product created through this program is outstanding. Students that have been coming to our programs multiple times, for more than two years, produce quality work. It is inspiring to see the level of work that can be accomplished through a successful program. Observing continued student improvement has been exciting this year.