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'Fire Speaks the Land'

C.S. Porter Middle School Students perform a dance piece about fire ecology in this 2013 file photo. The piece by CoMotion Dance Project's Karen Kaufmann is an example of integrating arts into the classroom to teach a curriculum subject. The students are, from left, Kaitlin Kinsley, Amanda Grace Pool, Allison Herther and Collin Ranf. 

Next week artists, teachers, teaching artists and more will descend on the University of Montana campus for Arts Transform Community, a conference on how to integrate the arts into education.

The 200-plus attendees will hear ideas from national and regional speakers about how to use singing to improve literacy, or teach state history with poetry, or geometry with dance, to give just a few examples.

They'll hear success stories from speakers like the musician/educators from the Silk Road Ensemble, who have spent the last six years working with students at Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

Conference director Karen Kaufmann knows the effects of arts integration from experience. She directs the Creative Pulse, a summer graduate program for arts teachers. Through her CoMotion Dance Project, she's taught kids about wildfire science through dance.

Integrating the arts into curriculum subjects can improve student engagement, motivation and attendance, Kaufmann said. It can also help students learn about non-curriculum things, such as learning to take turns, how to interact with students who have different abilities and more.

Since its beginning in 2013, she's helped with Spark!, a program that helps bring arts education into Missoula County Public Schools. The Kennedy Center's Any Given Child program selected Missoula as one of 13 local partners to integrate arts into underserved communities.

During the 2017-18 school year, Spark! had 89 integrated arts residencies in more than 250 classrooms providing more 1,000 hours of instruction, according to incoming director Sienna Solberg. The program achieved that by collaborating with 39 art partners and organizations, she said.

As an example, each grade level from kindergarten through eighth grade had been "exposed to an art form through an art enhancement experience," she wrote in an email.

To give just a few examples, kindergartners participated in the Missoula Monster Project through the Zootown Arts Community Center, in which they draw a monster and then a local artist "adapts" it to show them the possibilities if they pursue creativity. First-graders had a visit from the percussion ensemble the Drum Brothers to learn about African drumming. Fourth-graders went to the Missoula Symphony and fifth-graders went to the Missoula Art Museum's "art experience" program.


The conference marks almost three years of collaboration between Spark!, MCPS and the University of Montana through a Washington Corp. grant on SHAPE, short for Schools and Higher Education Advancing Public Education.

Its goal is "creating a collaborative model between public schools and universities to improve learning and teaching across the preschool to doctorate spectrum," according to Adrea Lawrence, interim dean of the UM College of Education and Human Sciences.

Lawrence said "the arts are a fundamental part of what it means to be an educated person."

"Recently, there has been a move to conceptualize STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and Arts Integration as STEAM. This suggests that the artistic process and the arts as an expression of though can be joined with scientific and mathematical thought. An example of this would be Karen Kaufmann’s dance piece, 'Fire Speaks the Land.' She has used dance to demonstrate how air currents move with and through fire in forests and how fire affects different types of forest life," she wrote in an email.

Registration for the conference, which runs from Wednesday through Friday, is closed. You can learn more at

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.