Curator Helps Children Explore Visual Arts

Posted: September 23, 1990

Althea Leonard said the new job she started Monday has her "doing what I've always wanted to do."

The West Collingswood resident, 37, was recently appointed associate curator for education at the Stedman Art Gallery at Rutgers University's Camden campus. She is responsible for developing and conducting the gallery's Museum Education Enrichment Program for children and adolescents. She also will produce educational programs for adults.

In its fourth year, the enrichment program strives to instill in participants a greater understanding of and appreciation for the visual arts. It also aims to develop observation and memory skills of school-age children.

"It is targeted mainly toward culturally disadvantaged children, who would not normally be exposed to art," Leonard explained. "We want to show them art museums do not have to be overwhelming or intimidating, and art is something that they, also, can aspire to."

Leonard said that in the user-friendly atmosphere of a small gallery in a university setting, music, story, games and hands-on activities were used to foster children's understanding of visual art.

"We also want to encourage the children to form their own opinions about art, to learn it's OK not to like something," she said. "And we want to acquaint families with a place they can enjoy that is affordable, educational and fun."

Before her arrival at the state university, Leonard, a 1973 graduate of Yale University, was a museum education intern for the National Endowment for the Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

She also was a teaching assistant at Tulane University, where she completed her doctoral course work in 1989, was named a Louisiana Board of Regents Fellow and received merit awards from the university.

Her husband, Rick Foster, is a sales coordinator for the Campbell Soup Co. The couple have three children - Amanda, 13; Elizabeth, 9, and Julian, 6 months.

The Stedman Art Gallery is in the Fine Arts Complex at Fourth and Linden Streets on the Rutgers-Camden campus. Exhibits are free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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June Statmore, a teacher of 11th-grade American literature at Cherry Hill High School East, has always used art as a stimulus to writing.

"I like to show my students how art and literature are related, how often the same subjects are depicted and the same methods are used," she said.

For that reason, she welcomed an opportunity to participate in this summer's Teacher Institute at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Designed to help teachers increase their students' visual literacy, the six-day Teacher Institute was open to teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade. Statmore chose a program on impressionism and postimpressionism.

"I'll use the information to deal with the writers of that period," she said, "especially some of the expatriot Americans living in Paris. Hemingway, for example, whose bare-bones stream-of-consciousness technique mirrors the impressionists' leaving out of details for the imagination to fill in."

Originally from Washington, Statmore, who lives in Cherry Hill with her husband, Kenneth, a lawyer, said she was familiar with the National Gallery but "learned a lot about paintings I've seen many, many times. It was a real treat."

Arthur Merz is trying to lead thousands of children, their parents and 123 schools into a decade of change.

The 21st century is "only 10 years away, and we have some things staring at us," the new superintendent of schools for Burlington County said.

Although Merz is now monitoring the progress of contract talks in districts throughout the county, he is also preparing for the implementation of Gov. Florio's new state funding formula and monitoring system.

Earlier this year, the state designated the Pemberton and Burlington City districts as "special needs" school systems, authorizing a greater state aid package in addition to more intensive state monitoring.

Merz assumed his three-year post Sept. 5 after his appointment by the state Board of Education. He was formerly the assistant to the superintendent for Burlington County and coordinated the county's 42 school districts.

As superintendent, he must ultimately approve all budgets, training programs, contracts and teacher certification procedures.

Merz says he is not heavy-handed in implementing state rules and regulations because the quality of the county's public education system eliminates the need for harsh enforcement.

"I don't mean to sound like a Pollyanna, but we don't have any real problems in Burlington County," he said.

However, last spring voters rejected the budgets proposed by 30 of their respective school districts, forcing a compromise to be struck between the school boards and the municipal governing body for each.

Merz said Gov. Florio's new funding formula should enable school boards to develop more financially palatable spending plans.

In addition to helping needy districts by giving them a greater percentage of state aid, the formula will reduce aid to better-off districts. Twelve districts have planned or begun construction of new school buildings, and their long-range plans may be altered because of less aid, he said.

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