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Clare Murray

Patron in the City: Clare Murray

At Patronicity, we believe that passionate individuals can spur change in their communities. We recently spoke with Clare Murray to learn more about her passion for community and how she serves as a Patron in the City.

Passionate about public access to art education, Clare Murray is the co-founder and Executive Director of cARTie, Connecticut's first and only nonprofit mobile art museum bus, committed to bridging inequities in education and arts access across the state. On an annual basis, cARTie showcases a juried art exhibition of high school students' art in highly interactive and participatory ways for students, schools, families, and community members. cARTie focuses programming on pre-K through second-grade audiences and ensures all young children have positive and prolonged early introductions to museum-based learning and opportunities for developing critical and creative thinking dispositions. cARTie presents itself as a space for, by, and with children, thereby reimagining the museum concept, deconstructing traditional models, and ensuring the state's diverse children feel represented and empowered.

In 2021, Clare and her team ran a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising $7,500. Ultimately, the project reached its goal and unlocked a 1:1 matching grant from the Sustainable CT Community Match Fund Program, ending up with a total of $15,000 to support the cARTie bus and programming. Sustainable CT's Community Match Fund is an innovative program that provides fast, flexible funding and support for engaging the community on wide-ranging sustainability projects. Anyone in a Sustainable CT registered municipality can participate, and eligible projects will receive dollar-for-dollar matching funds from Sustainable CT.

At Patronicity, we believe that passionate individuals can spur change in their communities. We refer to those individuals as Patrons in the City, dedicating their time, sweat, and tears to building vibrant communities. We recently spoke with Clare to learn more about her passion for community and how she serves as a Patron in the City.

The inside of the Cartie art gallery inside a bus. Full of colorful artwork.

Patronicity: Tell us about yourself. What is your role in the community?

Clare: I'm Clare and I run a small nonprofit art museum bus in Connecticut, across the whole state, and that museum bus is called cARTie.

Patronicity: Why do you love where you live?

Clare: I love the state of Connecticut, because I grew up there and I built memories all over the state. It's really, really interesting to come back to the state of Connecticut as an adult and be in a position where I'm providing for, and with, my community, my home state.

I love where I live because it carries, and will always carry, really, really meaningful memories, and also potential for building all the more meaningful memories for the generations to come.

Patronicity: Tell us a little bit about your crowdfunding campaign through Patronicity.

Clare: So, a museum bus requires a bus. And it required us to purchase that bus and transform it to retrofit it into a gallery space, whereby we could showcase an annual exhibition of high schoolers’ art in really interactive and participatory ways for young children, audiences that too often museums don't look to, but who are the future of a) our museum visitorship, and b) our society and our community.

So, back in 2021, we needed to raise the funding to purchase and retrofit that bus, and turn it into this laboratory for really, really powerful social justice, museum-based learning, empowerment, and transformation.

So, we were able to bring our community online and to rally around the idea of making the museum mobile–reimagining what's possible when we use the word museum.

When we introduce the museum environment to young children in these really interactive and participatory ways that meet them where they're at and integrate their needs, their prior knowledge, and where they can feel comfortable, invited, represented, and reflected; the potential for building critical and creative thinking dispositions can be boundless. That was what we were raising money for.

Patronicity: That is so incredible. I have an art background myself and it's so incredible to hear and to think about the impact that would have had on me as a young person to see the museum environment represented in a new way. That's really unique.

Tell us a little bit about your community and why this project is so important to your community.

Clare: Yeah, so when I think about cARTie’s community, it is the whole state of Connecticut. We're based in Bridgeport and Shelton–we keep our bus and Bridgeport and our headquarters is in Shelton, but cARTie’s community is the state of Connecticut.

The state of Connecticut is one in which inequities are really, really drastic. We can be in one town, and pre-K through second grade students may be reserved an hour everyday for artmaking, art exploration, and art discussion. But in a town right over, there may not be an art teacher on staff. There is no opportunity to go to a museum.

This kind of town-by-town example that I'm illustrating is across the state in urban, rural, and suburban areas, and across racial, ethnic, class.

The state of Connecticut has some really, really difficult inequities that we are trying to address by thinking about our community as the entire state of Connecticut. By leveraging the fact that our museum is on wheels, we can bridge these inequities and drive our museum bus from town to town.

Patronicity: Have you been traveling around with the bus?

Clare: We're in our second year of programming. Since September of last year we have been in schools all over the state.

Patronicity: Oh, that's so incredible! What are the impacts that you have seen in schools, on the children, and on the communities? What have the reactions been to this project?

Clare: Our model is repeat visits. We believe in the research that positive and prolonged early exposures to museum-based learning nurture critical and creative thinking dispositions, and also form the foundations for a sense of belonging and community in a museum space. We believe in this prolonged exposure and experience with this high-quality kind of work.

The students, we see multiple times over the course of a year, so it's been really, really fascinating to watch, hear, and observe what students recall visit after visit, and how their definition of a museum or their conception of a museum is so richly contoured by every single material discussion and moment of their time with cARTie.

We just have 45 minutes with any given class per visit, but those 45 minutes–they're electric. They're filled with introductions in the classroom to artmaking and investigating with different materials, to the discussion aboard the bus around one particular work of art, or two, or three, to playing with materials.

Patronicity: What inspired you to get involved with cARTie and how did your involvement start with the organization?

Clare: It started with my own leaning into these potentials for powerful play-based, artful explorations in museum spaces. I can trace it back to four years ago volunteering. I got my mom to volunteer with me at the Children's Museum up in Maine. Getting to be in a space like that and seeing the potential for unbounded learning, informal learning, that could open up avenues for really thinking and developing 21st century skills. These are the ways in which we change our society, we change our communities. So, it started there.

It couldn't have been done without really getting proximate to teachers and students across Connecticut. It really did matter to get back to my community and understand what the teacher’s experience had been, what a high school or elementary age student’s experience had been, and really understanding their needs and the opportunities to think about how we could capture all of this potential of museum-based learning, you know, and present it in a way that would address these needs and and the overarching inequities across the state.

Patronicity: If someone wanted to get more involved in our community, what advice would you give them?

Clare: I would say to think about what inspires you. I can only speak from my own experience–what drives me, what gets me up, what keeps me awake all night, is museum-based learning and the intersections of social, emotional learning with social justice. So, you know, early learning and development with all of these intersecting fields–that's what keeps me up. That's the kind of stuff that I know day in and day out. I'm ready to be there 110% to give that and find the best ways to give that to my community.

So, I think it starts with knowing yourself what inspires you. And then I think it really does matter to be curious about your community, to go out and ask people about their experiences. And to always keep an open mind, because you don't know what your neighbors are experiencing this day and that day, what they need, what their opportunities may be—and conversation is the building block for that.

Patronicity: What could other communities learn from your community or project?

Clare: Children are just incredible. I think children are the future of our museum visitorship and the future of our communities. And so it’s not just investing in them that matters, but believing in and validating their contributions really matters. So, I think if other cities, other communities, other projects might take anything from cARTie–it's that.

And hey, if anyone wants to scale cARTie to see it in another state–we are here for that. We're only in our second year of programming, but our evaluation is really rigorous. We're really committed to seeing how a museum on wheels can function such that it really can bridge inequities and education across an entire state, and do so in really inspiring and creative ways.

The inside of the Cartie art gallery inside a bus. Full of colorful artwork.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

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