Frost Museum gives challenged young people a taste of art

Panther LIFE students enter the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum ready to learn about art history, anthropology and archeology. Today they will attempt to recreate ancient artifacts using clay and paint.

Panther LIFE (Learning is For Everyone) is a program that prepares students with intellectual disabilities to navigate the world by providing an individualized curriculum that includes basic college and life skills courses. The time spent working in the Frost is just a small portion of the larger year-round program, which currently has 10 students enrolled.

Museum staff used the “shards exhibit,” a touchable collection of artifacts, to teach the students about pre-Columbian Latin America.

“The benefit they get is that they get to go behind the scenes,” said Frost Museum Communications Coordinator D. Gabriella Portela. “They get to work with our research collection.”

The students get to interact with staff and and learn about museum jobs. Curator Miriam Machado said the Frost program promotes critical thinking. “They have to work together, socialize and communicate,” she said. “They are learning important work skills.”

Machado uses questions like “How do these pieces relate to today?” and “Why are these ancient artifacts the same colors?” to keep students’ minds focused.


Miriam Machado teaches Panther LIFE students about pre-Columbian artifacts

Miriam Machado teaches Panther LIFE students about pre-Columbian artifacts

She repeats and reiterates lessons to help the students appreciate and respect different cultures, which she says is important for them to develop in our globalized world.

“It’s like breaking down the barrier,” she explained, “because museums are intimidating.”

To help the students further connect with museums, instructors speak about the methods researchers use to date and categorize ancient artifacts. They also examine objects with an eye to understanding their original purpose and how they were used.

Panther LIFE student Luis Rodriguez earlier this year interned at the museum and often gave tours to his friends in the program. Machado said he was a great advocate for the museum.

Rodriguez used an iPad to take photos and create his own virtual collection of artifacts; he learned many lessons from exploring the museum and working alongside the staff.

“Take art classes,” Rodriguez said. “Go to the museum, look at the paintings, but don’t touch; and be respectful to the people that work there and the paintings.”

Machado said having the Panther LIFE program at the museum was a learning experience for all involved. She and the rest of the staff see the positive affect it has had on the students.

“As we move forward,” she said, “my goal is to educate our staff and to diversify our programming to where we truly are addressing all audiences.”

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