Grinnell College Museum of Art partners to provide summer arts, literacy, and food programs for local community.
In June and July, the Sparkle Truck, a ’89 Ford Ranger completely covered in layers of Elmer’s Glue and glitter, was a familiar sight in Grinnell. The Sparkle Truck is driven by Tilly Woodward, Grinnell College Museum of Art’s curator of academic and community outreach, as she leads the museum’s summer programs in partnership with Drake Community Library (DCL). In 2023, GCMoA and DCL hosted a series of free community programs connecting the museum’s resources with a wide range of individuals, families, and community organizations, strengthening enrichment opportunities and the social fabric in Grinnell.
Altogether, Grinnell College Museum of Art (GCMoA) summer programs engaged a total of 2,801 children and adults, and distributed 320 activity bags, as well as free, nutritious food to 483 children and their caregivers. The programs connected participants with works from GCMoA’s exhibitions and collection and provided opportunities for children and families to connect with others while engaging in creative self-expression, literacy activities, while accessing free books and food.
To make these programs possible, GCMoA and DCL, under the leadership of Drake Library associate director Mallory Snow, fostered a wide range of partnerships in common cause. This included the service of three AmeriCorps members, collaboration with 21 community partners, and supportive grant funding from Greater Poweshiek County Community Foundation/Poweshiek County Alliance, the Mellon Foundation, Grinnell Food Coalition, and the Baker and Taylor Summer Reading Program.
GCMoA’s programs are part of the Grinnell Education Partnership’s strategy to strengthen education opportunities during the summer preventing the “summer slide”so children maintain grade-level learning norms and return to school in the fall ready to learn. GCMoA’a programs also helped Grinnell families address food insecurity, which has become more evident since the pandemic and is more challenging during summer months when children lack access to school meals. Most important, the programs are designed to be fun!
One of GCMoA’s most popular public programs is StoryTime Art in the Park, now in its 15th year. This free program happens twice a week in parks and locations throughout town, ensuring kids without transportation have high quality programs in their own neighborhood. GCMoA and DCL bring a Sparkle Truckload of art activities, and, with AmeriCorps Summer Learning Corps members, read stories to children, give away free books, and work with other community partners to provide meals, fresh produce, and baked goods. Over the summer, more than 1,000 people attended this drop-in program, and 483 children and caregivers were able to access and learn about nutritious food from Iowa Kitchen, Middleway Farm, and MICA.
To better meet the needs of different community members, GCMoA and DCL also partnered to provide special programs for specific groups both at the museum and out in the community. In addition to StoryTime Art in the Park, the Sparkle Truck took the show on the road, traveling to targeted housing sites with In Your Neighborhood , a program bringing art and literacy activities, free books, and food closer to home for families who might not have the time or transportation to participate in the Art in the Park programs.
On Wednesdays in June and July, GCMoA and DCL also went into the schools, partnering to support Grinnell Newburg School’s SLICK (Summer Learning is Cool for Kids) summer-school program at Davis Elementary School. Together the three programs served children by boosting skills in self-expression as well as literacy. Activities included writing, reading, printmaking, bookmaking, collages, clay sculpture making, and more.
Grinnell Area Summer Camp and LINK Mentoring Group were other area youth enrichment programs who made weekly visits to the museum in the summer to look, think, talk, make, read, and write in response to the museum’s exhibition, culminating in a July celebration of learning and exhibition of the art created during their visits. During the celebration, the stories created by the children wrote about the museum’s artworks over the summer were printed and displayed next to the artworks that inspired them, and compiled into five handbound books which were distributed to LINK, Grinnell Area Summer Camp, Davis School Library and DCL.
In addition to the extensive youth outreach, the museum also hosted programming for adult engagement as well. In addition to weekly yoga classes led by Joy Jones, the museum organized regularly scheduled visits with two neurodiverse adult groups from, CIRSI and Newton Dayhab that involved looking, talking, and making.
With the understanding that rural transportation is challenging, GCMoA provided weekly free “take-away” activity bags (available at the GCMoA and DCL) for those that couldn’t attend the programs on site. The activity bags contained reproductions from GCMoA’s collection with related activity guides and writing prompts, coloring pages featuring pieces from the GCMoA collection, art supplies, tiny blank books, recipes, and more.
Woodward says, “I’m thankful to be able to work with so many different audiences and terrific partner organizations using art as a way of connecting. GCMoA’s summer programs began 15 years ago with Art in the Park twice a week, and each year the programs have grown to include more. And every year the Sparkle Truck gets a little heavier, as kids leverage a little more joy from it.”