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Cox has grown educational efforts

Citizen Awards
Apr. 05, 2013 @ 11:03 AM

HUNTINGTON — Back in 1995, the Huntington Museum of Art started a small program called Museum Making Connections to take the spirit of the museum to rural schools without the means to get their students up to the jewel on the hill.

It served 1,000 students.

Fast-forward to today and the Museum of Art has an eight-component Museum Making Connections educational program that touched the lives of almost 26,000 students last year representing 148 different organizations.

For her work with the education program, the museum's Director of Education Katherine Cox is the winner of The Herald-Dispatch Award for the Arts for 2012.

Sarah Denman, president of the museum's Board of Trustees, outlined how Cox's equal training as an artist (she has a bachelor's of fine arts in printmaking and ceramics) and as an educator (she has an master's of fine arts in art education) has empowered Cox to deftly craft the museum's reach to ignite a passion for art and learning.

Today, the Making Connections programs include Tri-State elementaries (first, third and fourth grade visits), after-school programs, ArtWorks, Summer Camps, Saturday KidsArt, classes and workshops, including the renowned Walter Gropius workshops led by internationally known artists. It also includes museum tours, such as the Fourth Tuesday Tour, and other community events organized by Cox and co-workers such as Brad Boston, education coordinator, and museums and schools coordinator Cindy Dearborn.

"All of these programs possess one thing in common -- the touch of the gifted hand of Katherine Cox," Denman stated. "...The Huntington Museum of Art was fortunate to employ someone who had the wonderful combination of a background in art and education. Her experience at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Fla., made her the right person in the right place for the right challenge."

Cox, who has been at the museum for 14 years, including 10 years as its education director, said the museum's education program has organically grown and expanded with the vision of museum Director Margaret Mary Layne.

"I think basically with Margaret Mary's guidance, direction and leadership, our growth has been huge," Cox said. "She has such a great vision about how to help our community through art and how important that is."

Cox started the successful Saturday KidsArt program as well as after-school programming.

Cabell County Schools Superintendent Bill Smith said Cox wrote and shaped powerful and artful curriculum that the schools could use.

"We've seen a proliferation of quality experiences being provided by the museum, including off-site outreach in our schools and community," Smith said. "During her tenure in the position of Director of Education, Mrs. Cox has implemented programs designed to make connections for school-aged children with more than 25,000 participating students. These experiences are hands-on and engaging for students and have assisted the museum in its transition to a 21st Century learning center."

Smith also credited Cox with providing leadership by encouraging community support for the museum and the community's cultural growth.

Cox has written art-integrated curriculum such as the third grade's "Add it Up," blending art and math, and "Look, Listen and Move," which integrates visual art, dance and music. New this year for first-graders was "Kid Lit," which integrates visual art and reading language arts.

One other award-winning program that Cox helped created is ArtWorks, which pairs nationally recognized artists with at-risk youth.

It's handiwork is seen in dozens of often large-scale public art displays. Among them are a painted tile project at the Ritter Park Tennis Center, Windows in a downtown building across from the courthouse, and the national award-winning Building Blocks, a 27-foot, painted steel sculpture created by her husband and renowned sculptor Jon Cox with 11 young artists from the Huntington Housing Authority. Building Blocks stands at the foot of the Robert C. Byrd Bridge.

While only a handful of students get to participate in the now annual project, Cox said ArtWorks has had an incredible impact thanks to artists and teachers such as Kathleen Kneafsey. Kneafsey has spearheaded several of the projects, including this year's second installment of "Walk in the Park," which involves clayworks by Pressley Ridge students that will be pressed into large boulders placed along the walking/bicycling path in Ritter Park's west end.

"We are not serving a giant number every year, but the depth of the program is really significant," Cox said. "They are here every Saturday, 10 to 3, working, and they work toward completing a project that when they are done gives them a feeling of confidence and success and that feeling that I am of some value on the planet. It is pretty meaningful and these kids need that. I think we all need that."

Julienne McNeer, an emeritus trustee docent who has been a docent for more than 50 years at the museum, noted with pride that "the Huntington Museum of Art has gained recognition at the National Docent Symposium where our museum docents have held seminars on the innovative processes Katherine has developed for its own docent education."

Those docents lead the new, monthly Fourth Tuesday adult tours, a Sarah Denman idea that Cox credits Dearborn and docents for bringing new people to the museum for themed tours that have ranged from Harry Potter to a recent scavenger hunt.

Cox, who worked with the visually impaired in Jacksonville, also trains the docents to do tours for the visually impaired.

The museum also is running a special clay program for Cabell-Wayne Association for the Blind and is part of the New York City-based national research project, "Art Beyond Sight," Layne noted.

As a founding member of The Feminist Art Project and a working visual artist who has an upcoming exhibit on May 18 with her husband in Charleston at The Art Store, Cox brings an artist's touch to the educational job, said many artists who praised the museum's Walter Gropius Masters Workshops Series.

In fact, the museum is hosting the third of four diverse Gropius workshops with Tom Nakashima's workshop that runs Friday through Sunday.

Nakashima, whose wall-swallowing, large-scale works are now on display, will give a workshop entitled "Painting and a Philosophy of Life."

Although the internationally known artists draw in workshop participants from around the U.S., Cox said the intent always of Gropius has been to give local artists the continued chance to learn from the masters.

"We had someone register from South Carolina yesterday and that is flattering, but the goal is not necessarily to draw people from afar. The founder wanted to provide this for artists in the Tri-State -- that was the emphasis," Cox said. "The workshops themselves are amazing. To spend three days in studio with internationally known artists with other artists, it can't get any better than that. It is a great energy and you are learning and rubbing shoulders and getting to know people. I have done several myself and they are extraordinary."

That sentiment is echoed by Benjy Davies, the chair of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Rio Grande in Rio Grande, Ohio.

Davies has led an ArtWorks program and has attended several of Gropius workshops.

"These three-day workshops invigorate and inform my studio practice and inspire my students, many of whom have attended workshops with me," Davies said. "The quality of these workshops is above and beyond anything else available in the region and they are at least as good, if not better, than similar ones that I have traveled thousands of miles to attend. To have these kinds of opportunities available locally is a treasure beyond estimation."

With such stalwarts as Kneafsey, the museum's artist in residence, heading up a team of about 15 contract teachers providing a wide array of education, the museum has a great team dedicated to turning everyone onto art and growing the museum's reach in a thoughtful manner, Cox said.

Cox said they want to make sure people of all ages find themselves able to freely explore and to have their spirit quickened by learning something new at the museum.

"I do feel really strongly about people having experiences where they realize that learning is really cool," Cox said. "We want to instill that love of learning. That is key to the stuff we do, whether it is a school tour that has the tie-in to state standards or the Gropius Workshops, where someone is learning from a really well-known artist -- it doesn't matter. Those are the two extremes and everything in between -- the studio classes, the outreach -- I want people to love learning and to have that opportunity for self expression and to make something that you feel great about. That's pretty much it.

"Learning makes you feel alive. Loving to learn something new or to freely explore -- that is important to me."

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