New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has opened a newly renovated, state-of-the-art education center that will allow students, scholars and the general public to study the museum's world-renown collections that span more than 5,000 years of world history. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York Bureau art educators say the center's expansion comes at a critical time as many U.S. public schools are cutting their art programs to focus on other subject areas.

Students, teachers, volunteers and donors were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education at New York's Metropolitan Museum.

The massive public space now includes a renovated library, lecture halls, classrooms, and the museum's first-ever "art study room" designed for teaching while using original works of art.

Ken Lydecker, the associate director for education at the museum, says each year the Met presents 20,000 educational programs and events. He says the new facility is a welcoming place for students, teachers, and the general public to learn about art.

"In the course of a normal day, the Uris Center will see school groups coming to the museum and getting ready to explore the collections, it will see teachers who are coming for a teachers' workshop; we'll have high school students who are coming for after school programs and we will have members of the public and scholars," he said.

Among the first to experience the new space was Michelle Kurlan, who teaches art to pre-kindergarten and primary school students at a New York City public school. She brought her 15-member art club to explore the new facility.

"We just looked at a lot of different art work, Greek, Roman and two modern paintings, and actually we are tying it into some of the lessons we are doing in the classroom. It was also nice that all the things I've been teaching them over the past few years, they were repeating that vocabulary," she said.

The education center's expansion comes at a time when many U.S. public schools are cutting back on their art programs. The current federal education law known as No Child Left Behind calls on schools to significantly increase class time on math and reading, often at the expense of other subjects, like art.

But supporters of art educators say this is a mistake. They point to recent studies, like one conducted last year by the Guggenheim Museum, which finds that students who study art are better students overall.

The Guggenheim study found that school-age children whose curriculum includes art perform better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking than those with no art study.

Faith Hutchinson helped develop some of the new educational tools at the Met, and she says she believes all areas of academics are augmented by the study of art. She also says using computer programs to help teach children about shapes and colors will help keep their art education timely.

"Children enjoy video games so much these days, and they are raised practically using a mouse on the computer, we figure this is a good way to advance their knowledge of art, as well," she said.

Seven-year-old Luca Wilson made his first trip to the new center with his grandmother. He was an instant fan of the new computer technology that allows him to color and draw. "I'm making a little mountain, I making the shapes and I'm attaching them together," he said.

The Metropolitan Museum says it sees art education as one of its most essential public roles. It's 20,000 art programs every year also include lectures, tours, and traditional pen-to-paper exercises.