CHAMPAIGN – Rantoul Township High School student Detrion Diaz had thought Krannert Art Museum was just a place full of portraits.
Along with 11 other Rantoul students, he discovered the University of Illinois museum offers much more.
"It was really exciting. It was really cool," said Rantoul junior Mariam Qtiri. "It was not like I expected, with the whole 3-D thing."
That would be CANVAS, the 3-D Collaborative Advanced Navigation Virtual Art Studio, a permanent exhibit in the lower level of the museum.
As part of a new program called ArtSpeak, Diaz, Qtiri and other Rantoul high school students spent the past semester taking field trips to the museum, where they learned about its permanent collection and were surprised to find that its exhibitions change on a regular basis.
The teens also participated in museum programs such as ARTzilla, a UI student-planned event that featured live music and other performances; food and cupcake decorating; Foosball; mural, face and body painting; salsa lessons; palm readings; film shorts; and a Scrabble tournament.
"ARTzilla was so much fun," junior Hillary Casey said.
As part of ArtSpeak, the Rantoul students also recited their original works before an audience at SPEAK Cafe, a monthly event in the Palette Cafe at the museum that draws young people ready to express themselves.
And the teens helped work at Kids @ Krannert, a regular museum activity for younger children, on Saturday mornings. Because of that, the ArtSpeak participants were considered interns and each received a $175 check at the end of the program.
"I think they would have done it anyway," said Laura Billimack, the Rantoul art teacher who supervised ArtSpeak.
"I would have," said senior Chalina Cutts.
The idea for ArtSpeak came after Elizabeth Delacruz, a UI associate professor in art education, telephoned Anne Sautman, director of education for the museum, in fall 2006.
"She wanted to do something in Rantoul and something with the museum," Sautman remembered. "It was extremely vague then. We just met for coffee and it all came out in the first meeting."
The initial ArtSpeak, also with Rantoul high school students, took place in spring 2007. The program is funded by the museum and the school; Sautman had applied for Illinois Arts Council money, but because of state budget cutbacks, none was forthcoming.
Students in all grade levels at Rantoul could apply to participate in ArtSpeak. Billimack chose interns based on personal statements they wrote, making sure her final selection mirrored the diverse ethnic makeup of the school.
Also involved in ArtSpeak this year was Jaime Fagan, a Rantoul English teacher and yearbook adviser who is helping ArtSpeak interns compile an anthology that will document their experiences, art and writings.
Sautman said the museum hopes to continue ArtSpeak with other high schools within 15 miles of the museum. She assumes the museum will work again with Rantoul.
The program serves dual purposes.
"It's obviously helping us and them," Sautman said. "We're getting people who aren't used to coming to the museum to come here and feel comfortable and to realize that the museum has a lot to offer. It's a way to get more people excited about what we do here."
All of the ArtSpeak interns who met after school one day last week to create paintings that would spell out "ArtSpeak 2008" for a museum reception in their honor said they would visit the Krannert again, depending on the exhibitions and activities there.
Most of them said that before ArtSpeak, they had never been inside the museum at 500 E. Peabody Drive, C.
The program has yet another benefit for the interns, according to Billimack. They learned they don't have to be technically proficient to make art and enjoy doing it. They also gained a deeper appreciation of art.
"Art has a meaning; it speaks without words," Casey said.