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South Routt fifth graders experience educational side of Steamboat Art Museum

South Routt Elementary School classmates Keagan Montgomery, front, and Gracin Morrison look for items on their scavenger hunt during a field trip to the Steamboat Art Museum on Thursday. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Just before 1 p.m. Thursday, 20 fifth graders from South Routt Elementary School filed into the Steamboat Art Museum. It was their second field trip this year, and the group was giddy to be out in the spring weather.

As they sat down in the front room of the museum, they were greeted by Dona Steele, the museum’s education coordinator. Steele told them a little bit about the museum’s history — especially fascinating to the group was that the building used to be a bank — and discussed the current exhibit, “Four Directions, Common Paths: Oberg, Smith, Whitcomb, Young,” which highlights the relationship and work of the four painters spanning three decades.

The field trip is part of the educational outreach program the museum offers to reach various segments in the community, including school groups. Students as young as preschoolers can come in and tour the space, learn museum etiquette and see the paintings.



“It’s giving the exposure not only to art but also just the excitement of walking into a museum and feeling comfortable,” said Betse Grassby, executive director of the museum. “We want the kids to be able to come in and have fun.”

In addition to school groups, other local organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, Horizons Specialized Services, Casey’s Pond and English language learner students have visited the downtown museum in the past as well. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps will visit this summer.



In a collaboration with its current exhibit, Yampatika and the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council teamed up to create a display titled “Climate and Conservation.” The family-friendly display explores these two themes in relationship to the landscape paintings currently on display in the museum.

“We’re just hoping that if we educate the kids on these environmental issues, maybe they’ll eventually help do something about it,” said Steele.

First up for the South Routt group was a scavenger hunt. Students paired up and worked from a sheet to find 20 objects such as a campfire, glacier, mountain stream and cactus. The students searched for each object within the paintings.

“They always find things in different places that we don’t even see,” Grassby said.

The goal is to make the experience fun.

“When I was growing up, museums were always so stuffy, and no one wanted to go in,” Steele remembered. “We try to make it fun. We want them to learn about art and the education that’s connected with it, and hopefully, they will be inspired by something they see.”

Students from South Routt Elementary School take a look at the art hanging in the Steamboat Art Museum hoping to find the items they need to complete a scavenger hunt. (Photo by John F. Russell)

In a typical year, fifth graders at South Routt would travel down to Denver to visit a museum and have lunch, but this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, they couldn’t go. Staying local was the solution and their teachers, Meagan Zastrow and Katie Blair, even organized a small fundraiser for them through Donors Choose, which raised enough money to take them to lunch at Dude and Dan’s Bar and Grill.

“It’s been a really hard year,” Zastrow said. “They missed out on a lot of trips that they would normally get to take in fifth grade. They’re really excited to be here now.”

As the scavenger hunt wrapped up, the students each found their favorite painting to re-create. Parking themselves in front of the painting of their choice, they studied it, then drew it their own way with crayons and oil pastels.

“There are several things that are important for us,” Grassby said. “One is figuring out how we can use our exhibits to collaborate with other organizations and use the themes to learn. The other thing is for the kids to walk into the museum and say, ‘This is cool,’ and feel comfortable and want to come back again.”


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