A group of fifth graders overlooks Jodi Lightner: Gathered Coherence, fall 2021

Fifth Grade Art Experience

The Fifth Grade Art Experience (shortened to FGAE) is the signature education program at the Missoula Art Museum. Each fall, MAM invites every public and private elementary school in Missoula county and beyond within a 70-mile radius to partake in the program at no charge, involving an average of 45 to 50 fifth grade classes. This program introduces students to the Missoula Art Museum and to the educational offerings at the Missoula Public Library. For many students, this is their first time stepping foot into a museum, and more specifically, a contemporary art museum. MAM extends the Radical Welcome to the Flathead Nation Tribal Schools and surrounding rural communities by offering busing for an additional 10 to 15 schools and 500 youth beyond Missoula County. The program provides an opportunity for this broad cross-section of Western Montana’s youth to experience contemporary art in an interactive and creative way; through open-ended interpretation, and a hands-on art project taught by professional, practicing artists. Every student leaves the museum with their own original work of art. After the half-day visit to MAM, the classes travel to the Missoula Public Library for storytime and an introduction to using the library. This exemplary program has served over 50,000 youth since its inception.

This exemplary program provides an introduction to contemporary art and artists, a connection with their "home" museum, encourages participation engagement while interacting with art, and provides quality art education experiences, both looking and making. Inquiry-based gallery activities encourage self-engagement and the process and culture of self-discovery that have become the core of MAM’s education programs. MAM’s trained art docents lead FGAE tours through the galleries using a new, innovative approach to connect students with art—the infusion of an interpretive philosophy which uses inquiry methods of observation and interpretation. MAM’s interpretive strategy involves asking open-ended questions to encourage curiosity, close looking, discussion, and reflection. While art docents provide content and context, these strategies allow students to form their own personal connection with the artwork first. Art docents may also offer different ways of engaging with the art such as through movement, sketching, or partner work.

MAM is deeply grateful for the Art Associates of Missoula who have generously supported the Fifth Grade Art Experience for 38 years.

Interested in joining a welcoming community of artists and art enthusiasts? Learn more at artassociatesmissoula.com.

Current Year

38th Year: 2023–2024

Welcome to the Missoula Art Museum’s 37th annual Fifth Grade Art Experience (FGAE). The Missoula Art Museum (MAM) welcomes fifth grade classrooms again this year for FREE art-looking and art-making experiences focused on three extraordinary contemporary art exhibitions (see below). After touring the galleries with docents, students will work with a professional artist to create their original piece of art based on the art of Molly Murphy Adams. Following the art-making session, students will eat their lunches in the classroom and then walk to the Missoula Public Library for a tour, related storytelling, and an opportunity to get a library card. FGAE begins on Tuesday, October 3 and runs through Friday, December 21. Special thanks to the Art Associates of Missoula, MCPS, the Jane S. Heman Foundation, and Inspired Classroom for their partnership and support! NOTE! A virtual version of FGAE, Museum as Megaphone, will be held the week of December 11−15, offering a special "Live Day with the Artist."


Molly Murphy Adams: The Space Between

Make it Funky: Bay Area Influence on Missoula Ceramics

Joeann Daley: Montana Remembered

If you are interested in signing up for FGAE, please contact Megan Kleen at megan@missoulaartmuseum.org. If you have specific questions about the program, contact Janaína Vieira-Marques at: janaina@missoulaartmuseum.org.

FGAE Schedule:

9 AM: Class arrives at MAM.

9-9:30 AM: Intro and welcome in the classroom.

9:30-10:30 AM: Tour three exhibitions in small groups.

10:30-11:30 AM: Hands-on artmaking with a professional teaching artist.

11:30 AM-12 PM: Clean up and lunch in the classroom or the MAM Art Park; classes walk over the new Missoula County Public Library for a tour and related stories. HERE is a link to apply for a library card.

FGAE Docent Trainings: Developed to support learning for educators and docents who want to expand their knowledge of leading a tour and understanding of the artwork on display, and enhance their learning about DEI (diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) in classroom and museum settings. Interested in becoming a MAM Docent? Please attend the trainings and contact kay@missoulaartmuseum.org.

Docent Training Schedule: 8:45am – 10:15am

Thursday, August 31: Intro to MAM

Thursday, September 7: The Inquiry Method

Thursday, September 14: DEI (diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) in a classroom and a museum setting

Tuesday, September 19: Practice Tours

Thursday, September 21: Curator talk and visit to the galleries

Thursday, September 28: Making Art Project *limited space 

Past Seasons of FGAE

37th Year: 2022–2023

Missoula Art Museum’s 37th annual Fifth Grade Art Experience (FGAE) welcomed fifth grade classrooms again for a FREE art-looking and art-making experience based on three extraordinary contemporary art exhibitions at MAM. Students were inspired by the work of artist, APRIL WERLE, to create mixed-media prints based on personal stories, creating layered, handprinted images including personally meaningful symbols and characters. Special thanks to the Art Associates of Missoula, MCPS, the Jane S. Heman Foundation, and Inspired Classroom for their support!


Marilyn Lysohir: The Dark Side of Dazzle // Watch the interview

Imaging the Sacred: Birdie Hall, Talia Roberts, Daphne Sweet, April Werle // Watch the interview with April Werle

Raven Halfmoon // Watch a video made by the artist. Raven's great grandfather Hubert Halfmoon (Caddo/Delaware) is a drummer and singer on Songs of the Caddo, featured in this video. Morning Dance song is playing. Thanks to Unique Board for their part in making this video possible.

36th Year: 2021–2022

The 36th year of FGAE was another success! Students from all over the county returned to the galleries. Special thanks to the Art Associates of Missoula, MCPS, the Jane S. Heman Foundation, and Inspired Classroom for their support! The focus exhibitions for this season were:

35th Year: 2020–2021

Special thanks to the Art Associates of Missoula, MCPS, the Jane S. Heman Foundation, and Inspired Classroom for their support!

Though the Missoula Art Museum was open to the public, FGAE was a completely virtual program during the 2020–2021 school year. MAM is dedicated to continuing this tradition in collaboration with the Missoula County Public Library and Missoula County Public Schools.

FGAE was delivered using the Museum as Megaphone platform, which contains self-paced modules that can be completed as a class, or assigned as independent work. Each course includes video instruction from a MAM educator or exhibiting artist, an exhibition tour, learning resources, and a guide for a hands-on art-making activity. Curious, the focus of this season, features live-stream days where your class can log on and talk directly to the artist Doug Turman. The content meets the Montana state standards in visual art, Indian Education for All (IEFA), Social Studies, and English/Language Arts.

We created this program to mirror the classic FGAE experience of visiting the museum and the Missoula Public Library. This included three exhibition tour stops and artmaking instructions for a project. MAM provided watercolor supplies for classrooms that needed them. Be sure to share your students’ creations online with the hashtag #FGAE35!

The 2020–2021 FGAE course spotlighted the following exhibitions:

34th Year: 2019–2020

The 34th season of FGAE focused on Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain. The 2019–2020 year of FGAE served over 1,500 fifth graders from five counties in northwestern Montana. This program is always free and is generously supported by the Art Associates of Missoula.

33rd Year: 2018–2019

Each weekday from October through January, hundreds of fifth-graders from Missoula County Public Schools and beyond spent the first three hours of their day at MAM interacting with Cathy Weber's exhibition, Understory/Overstory, and then created their very own bird sculpture project using air-dry clay. The opportunity to work directly with Cathy Weber  impacted students on a deeper level, connecting them directly to her artistic process, her creative problem-solving complexities, and the inspirations and challenges that she and most artists encounter when making art. Learn more about the artist in this video produced by Slikati Photo + Video.

“Our trip to MAM for the Fifth Grade Art Experience is the most favorite field trip of the year. Students get to use their imagination to create an original piece of art—an iteration of their very own bird, based on Cathy Weber’s exhibition. It gets better every year.” —5th Grade Teacher, Lewis and Clark School, Missoula County Public Schools.

Read more about previous years in this 2017 article from the Missoulian.