Frannie Kuhs & Jane Tyggeson
June 2021 – As two popular art festivals, dozens of public art installations and a standing Arts & Culture Commission attest, Edina is an art-loving community. Thanks to Hometown Heroes Frannie Kuhs and Jane Tygesson, even Edina residents as young as pre-K can enjoy opportunities to appreciate and create works of art.
Kuhs and Tygesson are stewards of Art Adventure, a volunteer-led education program which originated in Edina Public Schools nearly 50 years ago. In its current incarnation, Art Adventure touches 70,000 school children across Minnesota each year.
It didn’t start out with this ambition. “Seeing a lack of arts education in the curriculum, a group of Edina moms had this idea to bring artwork or reproductions from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Mia) collection into our schools for classroom discussions,” explained Tygesson.
“Students learn the historical, cultural and technical significance of these works of art,” added Kuhs. In broad strokes, “volunteers lead a class discussion, [usually followed] by a hands-on art project tied in with the artwork being viewed.” Students encounter six or seven facsimiles throughout the academic year in this way. “Last, the class may tour the museum in the spring to actually see the pieces they studied.”
“Volunteers modeled Art Adventure [christened Art Masterpiece when first launched] after a similar program offered through the Art Institute of Chicago,” explained Kuhs. Piloted at Countryside and Highlands elementary schools, the idea “slowly grew … to include more schools, more artwork and more volunteers.”
Kuhs first encountered Art Masterpiece as a grade schooler herself. By that point, the program had truly hit its stride, due in no small part to institutional sponsorship from Mia and a formal volunteer training regimen.
In time, Kuhs' love of art would bloom into a career. After a decade with the Walker Art Center’s education department, she joined the Minneapolis College of Art & Design (MCAD) as Youth and Teen Programs Coordinator. Bringing it full circle, “I began volunteering as an Art Adventure presenter when my daughter started school at Highlands in 2000 … and presented every year until my son graduated from Highlands in 2010,” she said.
Tygesson, too, came to Arts Adventure with an arts background. “I’ve been involved since moving to Edina from Chicago about 36 years ago. … I’d been a gallery director in Chicago up until then, and so jumped at the opportunity to use my art history background in this new way.”
She is now a known quantity within the Twin Cities arts education community. Among other bona fides in the field, Tygesson has partnered with both Mia and Minnesota-based nonprofit ArtSage to pioneer art appreciation curriculums tailored to the special needs of adults living with Alzheimer’s and other memory loss issues.
Kuhs and Tygesson proved the saving grace for Art Adventure in 2006, when Edina Public Schools announced its intention to sunset the program for budget reasons. The pair agreed to redouble their long-standing commitment, shouldering the majority of volunteer training and other backend work associated with keeping Art Adventure running.
It was not a nominal commitment. In order to serve the 3,800 students enrolled across Edina’s six elementary schools, Kuhs and Tygesson must muster, train and equip more than 100 adult session leaders each academic year.
Fortunately, the mothers are not alone in their passion. Volunteers return, and new recruits join the ranks, every cycle. “Parents appreciate the opportunity to share their love of art in their own child's classroom,” Kuhs said. However, not all volunteers fit this profile – Kuhs and Tygesson now included.
Although Kuhs’ children have long since graduated, “I never stopped my involvement because I love how [Art Adventure] allows kids to learn about different cultures, discover how to articulate what they see and feel in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, [and develop] critical thinking skills.”
Tygesson agrees wholeheartedly. “My granddaughter will be going to Concord Elementary School in a year, and I’m so looking forward to bringing Art Adventure to her.”