Pilgrim Lutheran Church and School ArtSmart

Frida Kahlo stepped into a classroom at Pilgrim Lutheran School last year—brightly colored garb flowing, telltale facial hair in place—and faces lit up.

At first, it may have been the thrill of seeing the art teacher in costume, black unibrow slapped to her forehead. But then it was more: In an instant, the Pilgrim students were transported to Frida’s world and art became more than mere paint on paper.

At a time when school art programs across the country are finding themselves winnowed by lagging funds, Pilgrim is running in the opposite direction. Guided by a whole-child approach to learning, Pilgrim is feeding its pupils’ spirits with ARTsmart, a program that takes art class to a new level by combining history, appreciation and creative hands-on experience.

Taught to all students preschool through eighth grade and run by parent volunteers with backgrounds in art, ARTsmart is designed not only to teach technique but to build confidence and encourage students’ pride in their creations. At each monthly session, students explore techniques and components of art, such as color, texture and shape, through the work of a particular artist. And they create their own art, two- and three-dimensional projects that are displayed throughout the school.

ARTsmart culminates each year in an evening gallery show that has the look and feel of a real opening. At Gallery 4300, held in May at Belle Plaine Studios, guests milled among professional-looking installations while the young artists showcased their work—and their growing confidence.

Since the program was founded in 2006 by parents Cyndi Heiniger and Beck Anstee, students have explored and experienced the works of Kahlo, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and others.