Drawing bridges: New Look Clubs initiative connects Indiana children with IU Eskenazi Museum of Art


Middle Way House, a Bloomington-based agency that serves survivors of domestic violence across the region, is piloting a new art-based club program for preschool and elementary students at the shelter.

The program, called Look Clubs, is based on the concept of a book club. It is offered in a partnership with the Indiana University Eskenazi Museum of Art with support from the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation and the IU Center for Rural Engagement. Each month, club members participate in an age-appropriate, unique art activity based on a different piece from the museum’s collection.

Priscilla Cuevas, Middle Way House’s youth programs coordinator, began working with Kelly Jordan, the museum’s pre-kindergarten to 12th grade experiences manager, during the summer of this year to develop the program for children at Middle Way House.

Images courtesy of Eskenazi Museum of Art/Shanti Knight

Cuevas says she hopes the programs create a sense of belonging and empowerment for the children. “I serve a very special population,” she says. “I work with children who are experiencing childhood domestic violence … however, I also work with children who love to read, write, paint, color, draw, and create.”

The Eskenazi Museum also offers two other levels of the clubs: high school and teacher. Each is open to any interested student or teacher across Indiana.

The high school club includes a “Notes to a Young Artist” video series and the teachers’ club includes monthly Zoom meetings. The elementary level club receives a special feature called the Look Book—a binder with activities and prompts to encourage students to engage with and create art.

Jordan says she had the idea for the Look Book after the COVID-19 pandemic began. She began thinking about students in rural areas, and she especially empathized with elementary students who were stuck at home. She placed herself in the shoes of a student in a rural community who might have limited or no internet access and learns math, English, and science from a paper packet with no interaction. With this in mind, she crafted the Look Book.

It was designed as a low-tech answer to help bridge the accessibility gap, to continue and create connection despite distance.

Kelly Jordan, Eskenazi Museum of Art

The book comes in a tote bag with art supplies, an MP3 player with pre-recorded discussions about art, and the book itself which is made of wood to act as a drawing surface. “I think of the Look Book as a multi-tool for arts-based learning across disciplines,” she says. “It was designed as a low-tech answer to help bridge the accessibility gap, to continue and create connection despite distance.”

The preschool-level club is provided with a Look Nook at Middle Way House. The Nook includes activities and supplies for parents and their children to complete together. Cuevas says both the Book and the Nook have been popular among the families at Middle Way House, and the children love being able to show off the art they’ve made. “I really cherish the moments of my job when kiddos share their works of art with me,” she says.

While the preschool and elementary levels are being piloted at Middle Way House, the museum hopes to eventually open them up to children throughout the state.

Though in Bloomington, the museum belongs to the whole state, says Heidi Davis-Soylu, the museum’s chair of education and creator of the museum’s Rural Teachers Engaging Art program. She says the new clubs are in line with the museum’s ongoing goal of truly serving all of its communities as the clubs offer a museum art experience that children in rural communities might not otherwise be able to access.

“There’s research that supports that even one visit to a museum might help with long-term memory, will help with cultural awareness, and all these other wonderful things,” she says.

Yet, she realizes that many people in Indiana may not have the chance to come to the museum, and she’s thankful that campus leadership has given her the blessing to instead go out to them.

“We’re trying to be a museum that is actually really relevant,” she says. “We’re thinking about ‘what are the actual needs?’” For rural communities that often lack the funding for in-depth art education and have limited or no internet access, the Look Clubs can empower students and teachers with access to art resources and supplies.

“Our collection is a gift and powerful tool,” says Jordan. “In a time of great uncertainty, our purpose is more clear than ever.” To Jordan, the Look Clubs are a bridge that allows those without access to art resources to come ever closer. “With so much more distance in our current circumstances, we need bridges more than ever.”

The IU Center for Rural Engagement improves the lives of Hoosiers through collaborative initiatives that discover and deploy scalable and flexible solutions to common challenges facing rural communities. Working in full-spectrum community innovation through research, community-engaged teaching and student service, the center builds vision, harnesses assets and cultivates sustainable leadership structures within the communities with which it engages to ensure long-term success.