Contemporary Art Start

Applications for the 2015-16 school year are out! The deadline for applying is May 29th. Please scroll down to select from our two tracks of CAS.

Emphasizing verbal development, creative thinking, and Common Core skill building through inquiry-based learning, Contemporary Art Start (CAS) connects 3rd-12th grade classrooms across Los Angeles County with the diversity and power of contemporary art. Serving approximately 110 teachers and 4,200 students each year, CAS combines:

  1. Up to 40 hours of professional development (2 LAUSD salary points for first-year CAS participants)
  2. Two guided museum visits for students
  3. Common Core-alligned classroom curriculum
  4. Dynamic family engagement programs

Choose from two tracks of CAS:

CAS for 3rd-5th Grade: application, requirements, and training dates

CAS for Middle and High School Interdisciplinary Teams: application, requirements, and training dates

  • $110 per teacher
  • Transportation for fall museum visit; MOCA pays for spring transportation
Benefits for students:
  • At MOCA: two discussion-based visits facilitated by MOCA staff
  • In the classroom with teachers: lively discussions about diverse works of art
  • Unlimited-use family museum passes

Benefits for teachers:

  • Up to 40 hours of dynamic professional development emphasizing inquiry-based instruction, Common Core connections, and leadership skills
  • 2 LAUSD salary points for first-year participants
  • Digital classroom curriculum resources
  • Classroom coaching for first year participants
  • A MOCA membership

Benefits for schools and principals:

  • School-wide professional development workshops upon request
  • MOCA membership for principals and other key, involved administrators
  • An arts-integration incubator on your campus benefitting the entire faculty through your participating CAS teachers


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Program Philosophy

Contemporary art is the product and reflection of the cultures in which we live. As defined by MOCA, it is the period of art that focuses on work created from 1945 to the present. Contemporary Art Start (CAS) was created by MOCA in the belief that educational programs in the visual arts for students ultimately produce thoughtful citizens with a lifelong interest and involvement in the arts.

Looking closely and thinking critically about the art of our time—especially with a group of peers and a skilled facilitator—encourages self-awareness, improved discussion skills, and surprising new insights for students. The visual arts provide unique ways of knowing oneself, while increased perception and understanding sensitize students to the world. Because there aren’t any single, correct “answers” to works of art, the act of carefully exploring art builds tolerance for ambiguity and increases one's ability to accommodate simultaneous, multiple perspectives. With enough practice, these skills are internalized and naturally applied to other areas in life, be they academic, social, or civic.

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Contemporary Art Start addresses both the intentions of MOCA and specific guidelines set forth in California State and Common Core State Standards. CAS program goals for students are to:

  1. Develop language, speaking, listening, and writing skills
  2. Build artistic literacy by forming opinions regarding why and how art matters to them and by understanding that ideas in art can be viewed from multiple perspectives
  3. Build critical thinking skills that include making detailed observations, basing inferences on evidence, considering multiple perspectives, and applying these thinking skills to other areas of life
  4. Increase museum engagement by feeling capable of visiting MOCA on their own or with their families


MOCA aims to support teachers in their ability to:

  1. Effectively implement Visual Thinking Strategies (a standards-aligned, inquiry-based teaching method and curriculum) during and beyond the time of program enrollment
  2. Implement authentic visual art integration in alignment with the new Common Core State Standards
  3. Strengthen reflective teaching habits by participating in a stimulating community of peers
  4. Expand understandings of contemporary art
  5. Build art advocacy skills to apply in critical discussions back at school


Through CAS, MOCA also engages administrators in order to:

  1. Increase awareness of their teachers' work within Contemporary Art Start
  2. Provide firsthand experiences with art and discuss how it supports Common Core goals
  3. Widen dialogue about the role of art in education at school sites


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Structure & Methodology

Contemporary Art Start is a comprehensive program designed to introduce elementary and secondary-level teachers and students to skills necessary for exploring diverse forms and concepts of contemporary art. The components of the program include professional development for teachers, classroom curriculum, multiple museum visits, and family involvement.

1. Professional Development

The classroom teacher is the keystone of CAS. Therefore, participation begins with an intensive Rebecca Smith Summer Institute (four or five days, depending on CAS track) in which participants work closely with MOCA artist-educators. Teachers practice leading discussions about artworks using Visual Thinking Strategies--a specific technique for facilitating rigorous, open-ended discussions--participate in and assess hands-on studio art experiences, and explore the neighborhoods surrounding MOCA in preparation for self-guided walking tours with their students. The initial summer training is followed by two subsequent Saturday workshops (one in the fall, one in the spring) during which teachers continue facilitation practice, nail down all the logistics involved with bringing their students to the museum for a successful visit, and preview the exhibition their students will be seeing. Though the total number of teachers in CAS each year is around 115, all MOCA professional development workshops are conducted in groups of approximately 25, an ideal number for seminar-like discussions as well as the formation of active learning communities.

2. Classroom Curriculum

MOCA offers two kinds of classroom curricula:

  1. A new, contemporary art-based Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) curriculum accompanied by extensive training for teachers enrolled in Contemporary Art Start (currently not available online; CAS teachers receive free printed and/or digital versions of the curriculum); this curriculum and training are recommended as an introduction to:
  2. The Contemporary Art Start Curriculum Guide (available online)


MOCA’s VTS curriculum, currently in pilot stages, includes ten lessons (two of which are students’ CAS museum visits) featuring carefully selected and sequenced image sets for 3rd-5th grade, middle school, and high school students. At MOCA workshops, teachers learn how to carefully conduct VTS discussions using specific questions and facilitation techniques that promote deep thinking and language development, as well as expanded artistic literacy. Introductions to VTS and the VTS curriculum guide are also available as single- or multi-session workshops at schools.

MOCA’s CAS Curriculum Guide, available online in its entirety, provides a core of general art knowledge upon which to base the specific exploration of contemporary art. It features directed questions that provide an introduction to the language and forms of contemporary art as well as an overview of the wide range of media and themes contemporary artists employ. Each unit includes image discussions, writing suggestions, studio art explorations, and links to further investigations. Because the above-mentioned VTS curriculum and attendant training through Contemporary Art Start emphasize foundational perception, thinking, and communication skills so thoroughly, participation in CAS is recommended as a precursor to successful use of the CAS Curriculum Guide.

3. Museum Visits
One of the most memorable and powerful experiences for students experiencing art is the moment of encounter with the “real thing,” the painting, sculpture, or object that was formerly known only as a two-dimensional image in books or on websites. Student visits to MOCA are, therefore, a fully integrated component of the CAS program. All classes participating in CAS take two excursions to MOCA during the school year, one to MOCA's Grand Avenue location and the other to The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, also downtown. During their visits, MOCA staff educators faciliate discussions among small groups of students in the galleries using Visual Thinking Strategies, the same method CAS teachers learn to employ in their classrooms, to promote active discourse among students. In VTS discussions, students are prompted to look carefully, to venture opinions about what they think is going on, to support their claims with visual evidence, and to build on the ideas of others. Because this kind of thinking takes time, students explore only approximately four works of art in depth during their tour. Propelled by their own questions and those of their peers, students have personal, sensory experiences that motivate them to learn more. Learning sticks.

4. Family Involvement
Students receive complimentary MOCA passes allowing them to return to the museum with up to five members of their families free of charge. This provides an opportunity for students to share their knowledge with parents and siblings while the whole family acquires the “museum habit.”  Family-friendly workshops, called Sunday Studio, are also offered throughout the year to provide a setting for parent-child dialogues about contemporary art. For more information on student passes and family workshops, click here.

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Inquiry: Why Ask Questions?

The word “inquiry” says it all. It’s about motion—searching, seeking, eliciting, and scrutinizing. Inquiry is an interactive way to pursue learning with your students. It’s the opposite of the monologues used in a didactic approach, where the teacher delivers large shipments of information to students who are apparently “learning.” Inquiry-based teaching uses questions to elicit students’ thoughts and then help them examine their thinking. The answers to developmentally appropriate, open-ended questions are knowable because they are rooted in students' experience and their skills of perception. The goal of inquiry is to reveal to students what they already know by asking questions that encourage them to root around in their heads and come up with details, examples, evidence, ideas, theories, and speculations. The result is that kids get smarter through their own efforts and those of their peers. They construct meaning by interacting with others, rather than waiting passively for another delivery of information.

Though conversational in tone, well-facilitated inquiry is a carefully structured approach to teaching. Educators enrolled in CAS learn how to use Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a highly effective and carefully researched means of structuring discussions that meet students at their development stage and then gently push them further toward more complex thinking, clearer communication, and closer listening. Teachers enrolled in CAS receive a grade-level VTS curriclum that includes diverse images carefully selected and sequenced to elicit rich discussion. The CAS Curriculum Guide provides additional, more directed questions that can be used straight "out of the box," but which work ideally when blended with VTS facilitation techniques.

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Why Include Art in Your Curriculum?

The National Standards for Arts Education are remarkable for their vivid imagery, passionate language, and dire predictions for societies who ignore the arts. Take a look for yourself.
“The arts have been a part of us from the very beginning. Since nomadic peoples first sang and danced for their ancestry, since hunters first painted their quarry on the walls of caves, since parents first acted out the stories of heroes for their children, the arts have described, defined, and deepened human experience. All peoples, everywhere, have an abiding need for meaning—to connect time and space, experience and event, body and spirit, intellect and emotion. People create art to make these connections, to express the otherwise inexpressible. A society and people without the arts are unimaginable, as breathing would be without air. Such a society and people could not long survive.”

The benefits of having the arts in your curriculum are so numerous that it boggles the mind to see how thoroughly they’ve been eradicated from many school systems. Consider these ten excellent reasons, developed by Victoria Stevens, Ph.D., for embedding the visual arts into your day. 1

The arts:

  1. Provide a universal language that transcends race, culture, and time
  2. Allow students a way to give form to feelings, enabling those feelings to be communicated, which in turn leads to self-discovery and a sense of agency
  3. Promote the formation of nonverbal or verbal constructs that facilitate the handling of complex problems that do not have clear answers
  4. Activate multiple intelligences to help students learn in different ways
  5. Encourage persistence, resilience, focus, self-discipline, and the ability to tolerate frustration in the solving of a particular artistic problem
  6. Encourage the ability to work with ambiguity, view mistakes as opportunities to learn, and understand that there are multiple opinions and views on the same object, person, or experience
  7. Foster verbal and spatial creativity, enabling flexibility in thinking and the recognition of a whole and therefore also the parts of a problem within a given context
  8. Foster the ability to select important data out of masses of information, to synthesize it, and use it in a quickly changing environment
  9. Expand capacity for imaginative “play” with ideas and possibilities
  10. Bring a sense of adventure, spontaneity, and joy to learning in your class


1. Victoria Sevens, “Schooling the unconscious imagination: Psychoanalytical and neurobiological theories of child development, aesthetics and education” (lecture, James Grotstein Annual Conference, Los Angeles, CA, May 2002).


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