Indianapolis Museum of Art to launch preschool in fall

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Indianapolis-based not-for-profit St. Mary’s Child Center plans to open its fourth preschool this fall—one featuring extensive gardens, a working greenhouse, 152 acres of grounds, and 54,000 or so pieces of visual art.

In a newly announced partnership with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 16 slots are available for students to enroll in the IMA-housed preschool, with classes beginning in August. The school will follow the 180-day schedule used by Indianapolis Public Schools, with students attending from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Founded in 1961, St. Mary’s teaches 200 students in three locations, including the Butler University Laboratory School (IPS School 60) at 3330 N. Pennsylvania St. Its students were already visiting the IMA’s 100 Acres Art & Nature Park regularly when the museum began exploring opportunities for housing a school.

“Pretty early on, I began asking [St. Mary’s] direct questions about how contract classes work with IPS,” said Heidi Davis-Soylu, the IMA’s manager of academic engagement and learning research, who will serve as primary liaison with the school. “We wanted a partner with the right philosophy.”

In exploring options, the IMA decided it didn’t have the means to provide its own teaching staff—as the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis does with its preschool, which has been operating since 2010.

“We developed a business plan that we took to senior management in the spring of 2014,” added Dr. Preston Bautista, deputy director for public programs and audience engagement. “Once we resolved some security and other issues, we presented it to a board committee. All indications were that we should pursue this and move forward. It went more smoothly than we had imagined.”

Tuition for the school will be $5,170 annually, although the IMA is currently fundraising with a goal of having half the students on full scholarship in the first year.

Organizers say the school will be the first such facility in an "encyclopedic" art museum in the country.

A similar nursery school program at DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, a contemporary art museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, was praised as one of the “most innovative projects in the country” by the American Association of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museums. Like the IMA program, it features a program inspired by the preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.

And what are the benchmarks for success?

“If we can fill the class, that would be great. That’s our first goal,” Bautista said. “I have a feeling we’ll have lots of staff moms applying for spots. Our second is the 50-50 scholarship goal.”

These scholarships are designed, in part, to further integrate the IMA into the community. Programs are also in the works from families who want to stay on the grounds while classes are in session. Families will receive a one-year membership.

As for growth potential, Bautista noted, “We have four classrooms, but we’ll see what happens the first year.”


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