November 21, 2008

Art is a lifelong experience, and the Saint Louis Art Museum wants everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy it. Through its school and community education programs, the museum reaches out to classrooms and communities in the St. Louis area in hopes of making art accessible to the youngest audiences. “For many of the children that come here, it’s their first experience with real art, they’re like sponges, taking it all in,” says Marsha Rusnack, president of the Saint Louis Art Museum’s Friends Board. “The museum is a very calming, awe-inspiring place. Kids, and everyone else, walk in with a certain amount of respect and leave as art lovers and appreciators.”

    Each year, some 35,000 children tour the museum and thousands more participate in educational programs made possible by the museum’s Education Endowment Fund. One program, called ‘Arts in the Basic Curriculum,’ or ABC, brings fourth- and fifth-grade students to the museum for enhanced visits that include journaling and hands-on projects. Another, ‘Art With Us,’ provides student workshops taught by professional St. Louis artists. “Buses are lined up outside every day. There’s not a day you don’t see kids in the gallery,” Rusnack says. “Some of them grouse about going, but when they leave, they can’t wait to come back. And the next time they do, they bring their parents along, and it’s all free!” 

    ‘Express Yourself,’ the museum’s biennial gala to benefit the Education Endowment Fund, will be held this year on Saturday, Dec. 13. The black-tie event in Sculpture Hall begins with a cocktail reception at 7 p.m., followed by dinner and dancing to the Steve Schankman Orchestra. “It’s the event of the season!” exclaims Rusnack. “The ambience in Sculpture Hall is so spectacular and can’t be duplicated anywhere else.”

   The museum’s current, critically acclaimed exhibition, ‘Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976,’ will be opened to guests all night. Rusnack says that, just like the exhibit, the gala will be interactive. “There will be many ways for guests to express themselves,” she says, adding that attendees are encouraged to wear bright colors. “We’ll also expand on the exhibition’s ‘Words’ display, which allows guests to leave their thoughts on Post-it notes and chalkboards.”

    Rusnack says the event has already exceeded its $500,000 goal. “The invitations just went out but we’ve already raised more than $775,000!” she says. “It shows how St. Louisans appreciate the outstanding caliber of the art and great leadership at the museum, it truly is the jewel in Forest Park.”  The 2008 gala is co-chaired by Cheri Fromm and Noemi Neidorff, and major sponsors include Brown Shoe, Centene Corporation, Emerson and Wachovia Securities. Tickets begin at $2,000 per couple or $12,500 for a table of 10. For more information, call 655-5140.