MCA Creation Lab: A FREE Field Trip!

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago offers up to 5 free field trips per school per year. I took my middle school music class to one of their creation labs, where students worked directly with one of the museum’s resident artists to hone their creative skills. Here’s my thoughts on the trip and how you can sign up for yours!


Class outside the Classroom

     Field trips are both an amazing opportunity to give context to what you’re covering in class and allow students practical hands-on application of the material. They offer an “alternative learning” opportunity and often engage even your most difficult learners. Researchers have long known the educational benefits of field trips, but now they’re finding that they also promote life long success in your learners! Robert Dow (CEO of the US Travel Assc.) said “We live in a global society, and if you don’t see outside the neighborhood you grow up in, the world will pass you by.”

      Just being in new environment is enough to excite some students and, especially this late in the school year, it can reinvigorate your lessons as well. I used to think that as a music teacher, there were very limited opportunities for me, but it’s not so much about what you do, but more of how you frame it. In my 21st Century Music Class, we spend a great deal of time talking about the creative process and working on critiquing each other’s work, as well as getting and giving feedback. (Find out more HERE) So even though we didn’t make music at the MCA we did work directly with an artist who guided us through this process in one of their free Creation Labs. Not only were my students getting guidance from a professional, and much needed practice, but they were also making these real-world interdisciplinary connections! 

What is it?

The MCA describes it as a “dialogue-based tour with an interactive studio workshop component.” It’s a 2-hour session where you walk around the museum with a resident artist discussing whatever work that is currently displayed. The topics range from what the art was made out of to how it was made, but mostly why they made it. I think it was interesting and eye opening for a lot of my students to think about the why. Most had never considered art beyond its immediate physical appearance. There were numerous opportunities for tie-ins to our music class, like creating art in layers or allowing the parts of a painting to have a non-verbal conversation. You also get to spend sometime in a private studio with your artist creating work that’s inspired by the art we had just discussed. The projects vary from large collaborative pieces to individual postcards that students mail to themselves.  Also at the end of the session, the MCA gave me a stack of free passes so my students could return later with their families. The best part? The whole thing was FREE including the bus! It was so simple to plan and execute that I can’t recommend it enough! 

How to:

The instructions are on the MCA’s website and are relatively easy to follow, however there are a few important dates and deadlines to be aware of. September 1st and December 1st are some of them. This is when registration opens for their seasons and the trips fill up FAST. If you want to get a nice comfortable Friday trip you might want to be ready to sign up day one. There are three types of trips, the Creation Lab (which I’ve discussed), the Artist Lead Tour (which is just 1/2 of the CL), and a Self-Guided tour for the confident teacher. They cap groups at 30 students and are only available to Illinois students between the months of October to May, but if you can find time in your busy schedule to book a trip to the MCA I’d highly recommend it!

Museum of Contemporary Art Booking Link:

21st Century Music6-8 Middle Schoolartarts integrationchicagocreation labexperts in the classroomexperts in the fieldfield tripsfree field tripsFree Lessonsguest speakershands on learninglife long learnersmakerspacemcamuseum of contemporary artreal world connectionsTeaching Tips

Frank Cademartori • May 18, 2017

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