By Karla Dougan
“The arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term ‘education.’ We know from long experience that no one can claim to be truly educated who lacks basic knowledge and skills in the arts,” the National Standards for Arts Education said.
For this reason, the Columbia Museum of Art (CMA) epitomizes and prioritizes art education and community involvement above all.
“Art speaks to people,” Director of Education and Engagement Kerry Kuhlkin-Hornsby said. “It has been around since the beginning of man so it’s something that is primitive. It’s something that everyone has a connection to.”
The mission of CMA is to integrate the arts into its community through the “collection, exhibitions and programs” which interact “in ways that engage the mind and enrich the spirit.”
As a result of this emphasis on the community and education, this local museum in Columbia, South Carolina earned its Red Carpet moment on June 1.
CMA members Karen Brosius and Joyce Rose-Harris traveled to Washington, D.C. where First Lady Michelle Obama presented the museum with the nation’s highest honor, the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
“It’s kind of like receiving an Oscar, but for a museum. It’s a really big deal,” museum volunteer Isabel Cook said. “It’s like the number one award that is given out to these types of institutions all year.”
The National Medal for Museum and Library Service “honors outstanding institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.” CMA has implemented innovative public service programs and educational initiatives, which earned it this award and prestige.
“They had five museums, five libraries and we were (one of those) selected,” Education Manager Kayleigh Vaughn said. “It was based on our community engagement and how we go out to different partners and we provide art programs to people who wouldn’t necessarily get to come to an art museum.”
Among many of the museum’s community outreach programs are partnerships with local organizations serving at-risk families and children.
“The work we do (is) with St. Lawrence Place, which provides women, children and families a place to live for two years. We also work with First Steps in South Carolina Early Childhood Learning and Development,” Kuhlkin-Hornsby said. “We (also) work with a program called Prosperity Project in a community where the average yearly income was under $12,000.00. That was a really at risk, need based community that we are able to go weekly and work with those students as well.”
Kuhlkin-Hornsby says she has seen visible results as a result of the work it does in the community.
“A lot of children in these circumstances can’t really say or don’t know how to express what they’re feeling. So being able to offer them a way to do that has really been life changing for some of them,” Kuhlkin-Hornsby said.
The process of applying for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service is comprehensive and detailed.
“You have to submit an abstract,” Kuhlkin-Hornsby said. “We submitted video from programs that we do here. We had to have letters of support from senators and representatives as well as heads of some of the programs we work with, so it’s pretty thorough and in depth.”
Ultimately, the tedious application process paid off when the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded CMA a grant to further develop its initiatives.
“We are actually putting (the grant) towards our programs with First Steps. So we are investing back into our community programs that helped us win the award,” Kuhlkin-Hornsby said.
In the coming years, the museum will undergo renovations in order to expand studio and gallery space. Along with this, CMA plans to continue to prioritize community engagement and education.
“You never want to become a stagnant entity. You want to be dynamic,” Vaughn said. “We are always trying to strive to improve what we do and make sure we are staying cutting edge so we can provide the best possible programs to our community.”