Critical Thinking in Critical Times

When the novel coronavirus hit Minnesota, forcing the closure of schools, Greg Swan wasn’t about to let it cancel art, too. He and his wife are raising their family in a 130-year-old house in Historic Downtown Chaska, near the Minnesota River. All three of their kids have benefitted from Art Adventure, Mia’s popular school program, which uses the museum’s collection to teach critical thinking, empathy, and other important skills in Minnesota classrooms. In fact, Greg has volunteered with the program for seven years.So shortly after schools closed, Greg made a video version of Art Adventure with his daughter Annie, and posted it to his YouTube channel. “Turn off your mouth, turn on your ears,” he says in the video, wearing a grey hoodie and a hat that says “eelpout,” the humble bottom-feeder of northern lakes. He shows a picture of a small, remarkably detailed sculpture from Mexico, about 2,400 years old, depicting a household of ancient Nyarit people. Then he and Annie discuss what they see.

“What’s that Disney movie where they talk about hanging out with ancestors in the afterlife?” Greg asks Annie. It’s Coco, and while an image of the film’s guitar-playing hero flashes onscreen, they launch into a discussion of beliefs about the living and the dead, and the virtually nonexistent barrier between them in ancient Nyarit culture.

“I love the way we’re trained to hold up a piece of art and ask questions—and there’s no right or wrong answer,” Greg says of Art Adventure. “The idea of critical thinking and creative thinking is so core to being a human, and it’s a key job skill whether you sell insurance or illustrate books.

”Greg comes by video creation naturally. He works in digital and social media for Fallon, the Minneapolis-based ad agency. He’s taken the family to the Andy Warhol Museum, in Pittsburgh, to expose the kids to Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup can painting and ask, is this art? Annie, too, is a natural: she’s won a ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair for her art and has her own private YouTube channel.

But Greg knows this isn’t everyone’s experience. Some kids have rarely set foot in art museums. Art Adventure, he says, can bring that experience to them, even in a virtual classroom. “Art appreciation is a life-long skill,” he says. “It helps you spark creativity, and I love that Mia equips that and supports that.”