A docent leads a group of fifth graders through Lillian Pitt: Honoring My Ancestors, fall 2019.

Fifth Grade Art Experience

2020 marks the 35th Annual Fifth Grade Art Experience (FGAE)! 

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 is open to the public, FGAE will be 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 will be 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 have created this program to mirror the classic FGAE experience of visiting the museum and the Missoula Public Library. This includes three exhibition tour stops and artmaking instructions for a project. MAM will be providing watercolor supplies for classrooms that need them. Be sure to share your students’ creations online with the hashtag #FGAE35!

The 2020-2021 FGAE course will spotlight the following exhibitions:

This signature education program 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 nearly 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.

Past Seasons of FGAE


34th Year: 2019–2020

The most recent 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 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 will spend the first three hours of their day at MAM interacting with Cathy Weber's exhibition, Understory/Overstory, and then create their very own bird sculpture project using air-dry clay. The opportunity to work directly with Cathy Weber will impact 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.