Erie Art Museum (Erie, PA)


              Two adults behind a row of young children in a classroom with colorful art objects in the background

Viki Killana Kanu of Sudan and Galina Mayster of Ukraine at the daycare of the YMCA of Erie. Photo by Kelly Armor

In many ways Pennsylvania's Erie Art Museum is a traditional visual arts museum: its collection comprises more than 6,300 objects, including ancient bronze and stone sculptures from India, and it presents a range of public exhibits, such as Objects as Color, a show of work by contemporary American painter Malcolm Christhilf. The museum also programs concerts across a range of musical genres, including an annual two-day blues and jazz festival, and hosts a full schedule of community arts education programs. Erie Art Museum, however, also has another charge. Designated a Regional Folk Art Support Center by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the museum works to identify regional folk and traditional artists, assist those artists in keeping their traditions alive, and increase community participation in the traditional and folk arts. For FY 10, Erie Art Museum has received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to support a new session of Old Songs New Opportunities, a folk and traditional arts-based job training program for local immigrant women.

Presented in collaboration with local social services agencies and daycares, Old Songs New Opportunities is an 11-week training and internship project that teaches women from the city's refugee communities how to work in U.S. daycare. As part of the curriculum, the women also learn how to incorporate the traditional children's songs from their home countries into their childcare jobs. Approximately 15 women will participate in the new session, which begins in October. Erie Art Museum also will produce a companion audio cd and booklet of indigenous children's songs, which it hopes to distribute in local daycares and other venues both within and outside of the region.

Old Songs New Opportunities serves women from a host of cultures and countries, including Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, and Russia. The project not only provides valuable job training for the women---who are often limited in their employment prospects due to both ethnic cultural norms and lack of job training---but also serves as a forum for engagement between the new arrivals and the existing community. As project director Kelly Armor explained, "This project treats refugee women as the vital resource they truly are. When we teach them to leverage their traditional wisdom they get jobs they love, they revive heritage that otherwise would be forgotten, and Erie's children get to sing and dance more and more. Old Songs New Opportunities has literally transformed lives of refugee women and their families and made a huge difference for other daycare workers and their kids."

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