Now in its third year, the Bus to the Barrick program provides free transportation for K-12 Clark County School District children to visit UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. Most of the students in attendance have never been to an art museum prior to their field trip, and without free transportation and admission, many of them wouldn’t be able to afford the experience.
The museum’s executive director, Alisha Kerlin, knows firsthand the importance of exposure to the arts and wanted to provide access to the museum regardless of the financial status of schools and families.
The initiative began in 2017 after Kerlin got tired of college students not even knowing there was a free museum available to them on their own campus. She reached out to English 101 classes to have them visit, and many of the students in attendance were experiencing a museum for the first time. “Few of them had experienced the critical questioning of art,” said Kerlin, “[Visiting] was helping them become better observers.”
After waking the once sleepy Barrick and bringing it to life with college students, Kerlin wanted to expand to younger kids in Las Vegas. Despite the museum offering free admission, the challenge Kerlin then faced was covering the cost of transportation. She and her small team started a fundraising initiative to cover the cost of busing. A lot of the donations were made by artists from the Las Vegas community who know the importance of exposure to the arts.
Kerlin certainly understands the impact art can have on one’s life. When she was a child, her family moved around fairly frequently. She remembers her art teachers being a huge consistency for her in a time of frequent uprooting.
She also said she can relate to many of the children who visit the Barrick. “They’re probably viewing art, if they’re viewing it, in a magazine or online, and when I first got to see art in person that was super important,” she said. She remembers taking a high school trip to New York and getting to see art in person. Before her field trip, she thought all paintings had clean edges and were super flat, but after experiencing art in real life she realized how different things were and how important it was to see art in person.
Kerlin said trips to art museums as a child and teen were formative for her, but the major turning point in her life happened when she was in college. “My big epiphany with art, when I realized that art can be so much more than something beautiful, that happened in undergrad,” she said, “That was the moment when I switched my major. It doesn’t have to happen K-12. It can happen when you attend UNLV. That’s why it’s important why we do both [programs].”
After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Kerlin moved to New York and attended the Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts at Bard College. While living in the city, she worked in galleries, estates, and a custom frame shop. She’s also experienced the art world as an artist, educator, writer and researcher.
Kerlin said she frequently thinks about the impact art would’ve still had on her life had she decided not to pursue it professionally, imagining the ways in which thinking like an artist would still be relevant if she chose to pursue a math degree, like she originally intended.
“With math, I like to solve problems, and artists do that,” she said, “In math, I learned that there’s multiple ways to get to one answer. There’s also multiple ways to get to multiple answers. If you’re a researcher, for example, being willing to fail is something I learned in my MFA program. Being willing to fail is valuable whether you’re researching a cure for cancer or making a painting—those things seem very similar to me. Artists can also be entrepreneurial and innovative.”
This same philosophy carries over to when students visit during the Bus to the Barrick program. “We ask them to describe what they see,” she said, “We know that if you come from different backgrounds and experiences, you’re going to see things very differently. I think [knowing] that on a basic level is super important.”
Each group’s visit to the Barrick is tailored to the class’s grade level and subject matter, which is a challenge for Kerlin and her small, dedicated staff. But they don’t complain because they want to make art as applicable to the class subject matter as possible.
Kerlin estimates that the Bus to the Barrick program has brought in more than 2,400 Las Vegas-area schoolchildren.
The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art is located on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Donations are welcome, but admission is free. Justin Favela and Ramiro Gomez | Sorry for the Mess is on view through Aug. 3, and VESSEL: Ceramics of Ancient West Mexico is on view through Aug. 17.