Mingei Museum in the Classroom

Students viewing their piñatas

When Mingei International Museum Education Specialist, Diana Benavídez, stepped into the classroom at J. Calvin Lauderbach Elementary school last fall, she described it as a full circle moment. Benavídez graduated from J. Calvin Lauderbach Elementary School in 2001, and 21 years later, she was back in the classroom, this time as a teacher. For her, running the museum’s ART OF THE PEOPLE program was rewarding and emotional, and also an opportunity to find fulfillment in inspiring kids just like her.

ART OF THE PEOPLE is an education program organized by Mingei, a folk art, craft, and design museum located in Balboa Park. The program brings art lessons and instruction to students and teachers in their classrooms – an effort in response to declining art programs in elementary schools across the country. This school year, Benavídez worked with the J. Calvin Lauderbach and Los Altos Elementary Schools in Chula Vista and delved into educating the 3rd graders on the art of piñatas, sewing and quilting. She taught across nine classrooms between the two schools, sometimes instructing all 200 students in a single week. The classes took inspiration from two exhibitions at Mingei, Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration, which closed this past April, and 25 Million Stitches, which continues until October.

Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration, was one of the first-ever exhibitions centering around piñatas as both a traditional craft and vibrant contemporary art form. Some piñatas made by Benavídez were featured in the exhibition, which served as inspiration for many of her students. “I was very proud to be back and teaching at my old school, especially since the students were from a predominantly Latino community, a community that does not often get to explore or be represented in the arts,” she shared with GB Magazine.

The craft lessons had another integral role in the third graders’ education – using their hands. Many young students have spent the past three years in virtual school, with few opportunities to practice hand-eye coordination skills that they would have been learning in classrooms. Benavídez noted that many of the kids struggled with cutting pieces of paper. “It was challenging for them,” she said. “They missed out on a lot with virtual school, and for many of them, this was their first year back in person in school.” The ART OF THE PEOPLE classes provided crucial learning moments for the elementary schoolers, providing a deeper understanding of art while also learning important art-making skills.

The 2022-2023 ART OF THE PEOPLE program culminated in an exhibition of student work from both elementary schools at Mingei. Students took direct inspiration from the museum’s exhibitions and permanent collection and were provided free transportation and admission to and from the museum.

The ART OF THE PEOPLE program recently celebrated its 13th successful year and looks forward to continuing to impact schools in the future with the generous support of donations from art and education lovers across our region. From learning about the history of piñatas and quilting to hands-on art-making skills, the importance of art education for young people is now more clear than ever. Learn more about Mingei’s education programs and opportunities to support this important work at www.mingei.org.

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Esteban Villanueva