Photographs: Courtesy of Clare Murray
Van Gogh on the Go
Alum Clare Murray drives art to students in her home state
In the parking lot of an elementary school in Connecticut, there is a bus with the name “cARTie” printed on the side. Painted green and black, it catches the attention of the kids in the building, who are thrilled at the potential it holds. As they step inside, they are at once immersed in the world of art. They can explore new ideas and materials, create a work of their own, and see pieces by local teens on the walls. They experience the process of art instead of just seeing the product from the other side of a glass frame.
The mastermind behind cARTie is Clare Murray, Ed.M.’20, who is now pursuing her doctorate in art and art education from Columbia University. While studying, she started noticing inequities around her — there were several art museums in Connecticut, but none easily accessible to children from underfunded and underserved school districts. A whopping 75% of the local children under the age of 8, she says, have not had the opportunity to visit a museum. She knows firsthand how essential exposure to the arts as a young student is: artistic encouragement fuels future civic and cultural participation, helps kids grow into emotionally secure and socially aware adults, and offers ways to solve problems creatively and authentically engage the world around them.
One summer, Murray and her mom volunteered as play-based educators at a children’s museum in Maine. It was there, while exploring the camera obscura room, that they realized that this type of learning — artistic, meaningful, fun, and play-based — should be the standard everywhere.
Determined to bring arts education to their community, Murray formed a team, including her mom and friend Cal Inguanti, Ed.M,’20, and together they hatched a plan to turn a bus into a mobile art gallery — and drive the museum to the kids. Murray talked with Ed. about this experience.
What is cARTie?
cARTie is Connecticut’s first and only nonprofit mobile art museum bus with, by, and for children. We came up with the idea of cARTie in 2018 and became an official 501C3 charitable organization in 2020. cARTie’s purpose is to bring the museum fieldtrip experience to life for our youngest neighbors — particularly those who otherwise do not have access to powerful museum-based learning opportunities.
What kinds of activities happen inside the bus?
The minute students hop aboard our bus, they are given something tangible to hold. Maybe it’s a paintbrush, a viewfinder, or another museum tool. Young children make sense of the world through touch, through sensory explorations. We support their investigations in the museum space. There are interactives for each work of art on the bus, too. Every child is ensured time to play. We know it’s through play that kids make sense of their world, and we amplify that.
What got you passionate about art and education?
I think I can trace my proclivity for art back to my parents. My dad was a businessperson, but as a child I might as well have thought he was a poet, a visual artist, a singer, you name it. He’d recite these poems he made up before bed, and we’d see his paintings all over every extended family member’s house, and it made me proud to be his daughter. I grew up watching my mom bubble with joy at writing letters in exquisite script or creating reed-stick candles. I discovered making art was key to my wellbeing. I make art these days to think about the things I’m thinking about.
Tell me more about your Fulbright experience in Spain.
My experience in Spain was absolutely life changing. At the time, I was particularly interested in the changing landscape of funding models for cultural institutions there. I treated my application to Fulbright like a full-time job. I connected with these two cultural economists in Valladolid who were doing research that looked exciting, and next thing I knew I was awarded a Fulbright Predoctoral Research Grant to study what was going on in Spain. I had to forge a life for myself, make a whole new social life, open bank accounts in another language, travel to rural areas of Spain alone for my research — all in my second language. I taught myself constructivism. I taught myself to write and publish journal articles. I taught myself to study museum education theory. I held myself accountable every step of the way. It set me up for Harvard. It set me up for Columbia. And most importantly, it set me up for cARTie.
I love the idea of your cultural equity workshops. How has your persistent close examination of privilege and inequality influenced your life and work?
We made a conscious decision to allocate funds this year to DEI trainings. We have been working with Wanda Knight, the president-elect of the National Art Education Aassociation and renowned DEI and arts education expert, for the past 10 months. With every workshop, we’ve grown as individuals and as a group. We spend an hour on Zoom every other month with Dr. Knight, and each session builds upon the last. We have homework. We hold each other accountable. And we try to talk, honestly, openly, and critically. I have a responsibility to address the inequities in our society, and I am committed to being anti-racist in all areas of my life.
Are there any other social justice issues you're devoted to?
It means a lot to hear you ask about my commitments to social justice. I spend time making art, teaching yoga classes, and doing other activities to raise money for different movements. I volunteer on the breakfast line at my church in NYC and at my local yoga studio. I’m committed to recognizing my privilege and using it in ways that tackle the systems of oppression befalling our society. I can always do more, and I appreciate your question getting me to move on this even more again.
What’s next for cARTie?
I see cARTie being that magical adventure that children remember when they look back on their childhood. I see cARTie being the intermediary for building children’s comfort in museums. I see cARTie advocating for children with an unconditional, fierce devotion to the power of the arts in education. I see cARTie ensuring all children positive and prolonged early experiences with museum-based learning. And ultimately, I see cARTie bridging inequities in education and arts access across the state.
Heather Corn is a writer from Ohio. Her last piece, for Usable Knowledge, looked at homeschooling during COVID.