If you ask North Salem resident Michelle Friedman who she’d most like to explore an art museum with, it would be a young child.
“Kids see so much more in art than the average adult does,” said Friedman, who is the Head of Education and Academic Initiatives at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn. “They are open to every possibility.”
It’s this fundamental belief in children that may have contributed to Friedman being named 2019 Outstanding Art Museum Educator of the Year by the Connecticut Art Education Association (CAEA).
The CAEA Outstanding Educator Awards recognize visual arts educators for demonstrating excellence in the classroom, active participation and leadership at the local, state, and/or national level and advocacy for the arts and other art education related accomplishments. Friedman was honored April 28 at an awards dinner in Farmington, Connecticut.
When talking with Friedman, it’s easy to see her passion for what she does and the extent to which she values children’s inherent openness to art.
“Kids have the most creative ideas of what things are, and why and how they are made,” she said.
Friedman traces her love of art back to her own childhood growing up in South Salem.
“I grew up in a very creative family,” she said, noting her family’s love of music and art.
Friedman can still recall the big brown art table that sat prominently within her childhood home.
As a child, she visited the Aldrich with her Girl Scout Brownie troop, not knowing that the museum would later play such a central role in her life.
While a student at Purchase College, Friedman secured an education internship at the Aldrich. The position blended her love of art with her desire to work with children. It was during this time that she met her now husband, Christopher Manning, who was also interning at the museum. The couple have both continued to work at the Aldrich post-college and wed last September. They recently put down roots in North Salem, purchasing a home in the Bloomerside section of Peach Lake.
In her role at the Aldrich, Friedman has developed partnerships with area schools that focus on extended engagement with art.
“Our method with schools these past few years involves creating multiple touchpoints with kids and families,” she said, describing a whole family, whole school model. “This helps the art experience to be more meaningful than just an afternoon visit.”
Friedman has implemented this innovative approach with schools in Ridgefield, Norwalk and Stamford. The benefits for art education, according to Friedman, are far-reaching and include things like the development of “soft skills” such as communication and collaboration, enhancement of fine motor skills, mindfulness, inquiry-based learning—which favors questioning over lecturing—and the development of visual literacy.
“The habits of mind of an artist are similar to the habits of mind of a child: creativity, innovative problem solving, risk taking,” Friedman said. While society often trains children to leave behind some of those qualities as they get closer to adulthood, Friedman points out how important it is for kids to see adults who possess those qualities and also actively use them.
“There’s always an emphasis on art as its own subject,” Friedman said. “In school or at home we tend to not learn across disciplines. But it’s important to realize how interconnected everything is.”