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Bowers Museum receives $110,000 Nicholas Endowment grant supporting its arts outreach programs

A Bowers Museum docent talks about Acjachemen and Tongva tribe history in a video about California.
A Bowers Museum docent talks about Acjachemen and Tongva tribe history in a prerecorded video about California.
(Courtesy of Bowers Museum)

The Bowers Museum has received a $110,000 grant from the Nicholas Endowment to expand its Art Access program — including its ongoing virtual museum school tours and family festivals.

Victoria Gerard, vice president of programs and collections at the Bowers, said the facility typically serves at least 12,000 local students on site every year.

Through donations and grants, the museum is able to offer museum activities free of charge to Title 1 public schools in Orange County. Now, the museum offers students and teachers virtual school tours for pre-K through 12th-grade students and online resources that have been downloaded as far away as Denmark.

“What we’ve learned is that every school is different in terms of their distance-learning setup or if they’re doing hybrid,” Gerard said. “We don’t have a one-stop shop. We have more of a concierge platform.”

Some teachers prefer prerecorded content, others want a live Zoom presentation. Last year, museum docents were able to record tours inside the galleries.

Gerard said the Bowers has a robust guild of more than 100 docents, who are volunteers primarily responsible for school tours.

Ingrid Bowers (no relation) has worked in the Magnolia School District 21 years. Over the last five years, she’s built the district’s arts plan by working with arts organizations to bring theater, dance, visual art and music to all students.

“We built this partnership where our fourth-grade students have the opportunity — many of whom have never been to a museum before — and see the artifacts firsthand and then follow up with an art activity,” Bowers said.

One of the art projects for virtual tours on California history is basket weaving.
Bowers Museum art projects for students come with instructional videos. One of the art projects for virtual tours on California history is basket weaving.
(Courtesy of the Bowers Museum)

The district’s fourth-graders who are studying California history take a virtual tour starting with the Acjachemen and Tongva tribe history, then complete different art projects like basket-weaving and creating a mural. The museum mails out art kits with corresponding how-to videos to schools.

The grant will also be used to fund the Family Festival program throughout the year. The latest virtual festival took place in January and highlighted chocolate. The next festival will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Feb. 28.

“The name of the game for this pandemic is trying to adapt and continuing to try to find new ways to serve the community,” Gerard said.

The Bowers altered its after-school program, which has been in place since the 1990s for the Santa Ana community. The focus of the program shifted to art kit, groceries and hot meal curbside pickups. Soon, the museum plans to launch a live monthly Latinx Parenting series.

“We’re in a time right now where kids need arts more than they’ve ever needed them,” Bowers said. “Our kids need to connect with people and sometimes they don’t have the words to express the ideas. Arts connects people, and it has also given them a whole different way to express how they’re feeling. For our students, this is really helping to provide joy, support and helping increase engagement in school.”

The Nicholas Endowment is an Irvine-based private foundation whose mission includes support for the performing and visual arts, advancement of science and education and partnership with area charities.

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