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Mauren Antkowski works with children as part of Granada Arts Education Project, which promotes art.
Photo courtesey of Mauren Antkowski.

Art Education: Making a Difference in Nicaragua

When Mauren Antkowski (A'04), an art major, took Therese Tardio's intermediate Spanish class in 2002, she didn't realize that five years later the two would be co-founders of a successful arts education program in Nicaragua.

"I was interested in teaching art in a native Spanish-speaking school," said Antkowski, a staff member in the Philosophy Department. "Therese approached and invited me to teach in two schools that she was involved with in Granada, Nicaragua. When we returned, we decided to make the trip an annual event and to try to build a sustainable project to support the arts. That's how the Granada Arts Education Project was born."

The Granada Arts Education Project (GAEP) serves a community of schools in Granada with activities and art appreciation. Fundraising allows the project to donate supplies, sponsor art education activities and support translation needs.

"The schools in Nicaragua do not have resources for any type of arts program," said Tardio, associate teaching professor of Hispanic Studies who had spent time in Nicaragua for research and to volunteer with Building New Hope, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit that supports community development in Nicaragua and El Salvador. "The arts are important to stimulate children's brains and foster overall intellectual development. Through the project, we're hoping to improve the education of Granada's students while also giving them a creative outlet."

Students and teachers in Granada have welcomed the art curriculum. Artwork is done during free class time and only after the students' regular work is completed. Antkowski and Tardio work with the teachers to include projects that complement what the students are learning in class.

"When one class was learning about the environment, Mauren designed lesson plans for projects using rocks, plants and sun paper, after first talking about the importance of land and water use," Tardio said. "It was a project that reinforced what the children were learning in other classes, but creative at the same time."

"The students are really proud of their work," Antkowski added. "Last summer, we kept all of the work they did and set up an art exhibition. We invited their families, and the kids were so excited to show off their work."

Currently the GAEP supports two schools in Granada with arts education but there are plans to expand. In addition to sending supplies, the GAEP provides resources for the Granada teachers to use on future projects and art-related field trips.

And the GAEP's work is also benefiting Pittsburgh-area students and promoting cultural exchanges through swap projects. In one swap project, Antkowski had students in Granada make self-portraits that she brought back and shared with Winchester Thurston students - who then learned about Nicaragua and made self-portraits, which were sent to Granada.

"We're just trying to bring art activities to places that don't have them," Antkowski said. "Besides fundraising, we're always looking for artists to collaborate, lesson plans to use or new ideas."

Interested in supporting the GAEP?
At 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, 2010, the GAEP will hold its third annual fundraiser at AVA Bar and Lounge, 126 S. Highland Avenue. Browse and purchase artwork donated by Pittsburgh artists. Enjoy music, a silent auction, raffle and much more.

Stay connected with Carnegie Mellon's College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Twitter and Facebook.

Other sources of Carnegie Mellon news include the university news service website and the Carnegie Mellon Today magazine.

Contact Shilo Raube, Director of Public Relations at or (412) 268-6094.


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