Where art meets academics

Staff Written Community, Featured

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

The Steffen Thomas Museum of Art (STMA) is making the effort to invest in the education of young people. The STMA is stepping up its educational efforts with a series of programs designed to incorporate art with educational lessons. 

Lisa Thomas Conner, the daughter of an artist and an educator, is the perfect candidate to oversee the STMA’s educational programming. She started all the educational programming at the STMA. 

Lisa’s father was Steffen Thomas, a prolific artist whose art is honored at the STMA and her mother, Sarah Thomas, was a teacher who founded the museum. 

“All of our programs are inspired by my father’s philosophy,” said Conner. “My mother was a lifelong teacher.  My parents both highly valued education. Our education programs were inspired by my father’s own career and philosophy about how important art is to being human.”

Conner noted that artwork helps tell the story of our history from the earliest times. 

“We wouldn’t know anything about cave men if it were not for cave art,” said Conner.  “Art is one of the most important things about culture. Since we are in a rural area, we want to share this with the students in this area because they don’t all get to go to high museums further away.”

Over the summer, the STMA hosted a group of kids from the Morgan County Boys & Girls Club. The STMA invited the children to the museum for a day to do an art project, working with fluorescent paints. For the last two years, the STMA has opened its doors to students from the Grady College of Journalism. Students came to the museum and wrote an anthology about Steffen Thomas. 

“We really wanted to reach out to the literary side of the arts,” said Conner. “Before that we had always done events with the visual side, but we wanted to expand.”

There are several educational events on the horizon for the STMA. 

In September, 250 fourth-graders from Putnam County will visit the museum to learn about Steffen Thomas and create an art project. In October, 100 eighth-graders from Athens Academy will do the same. Morgan County fourth-graders will tour the museum in February and museum leaders are hoping students from Crossroads alternative school will come to museum, too. 

“We are really excited about this year,” said Conner. 

Conner is working to develop “distance learning” programs, for kids who can’t travel to the museum. Conner wants to bring the museum to them. 

“We can actually bring a project into a classroom at a distance, in another county or state,” said Conner. “Some of the schools are too far away to drive here or they don’t have the funding. So we wanted to start this program to expand our outreach.”

The STMA will also be hosting a prestigious conference later this fall called the Olmsted Plein Air event called Georgia Color in which 40 Georgia artists will gather at the museum for a conference and will paint around Madison and Lake Oconee. 

“It’s going to be a big event,” said Conner. “We expect a lot of people coming through town for it.”

Stay tuned for more details about upcoming events at the STMA this year. 

“We have a lot of new things coming up and programs we are working on. Art is such an important part of education and the museum is here for students of any age,” said Conner.

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