Sixth graders perform Homer's Odyssey

Imagine eight classrooms of approximately thirty-five middle school students working together to write, direct, and present a two-hour production of The Odyssey, complete with props, scenery, and costumes. The fearless sixth-grade teachers at Prairie Vista Middle School undertook this monumental effort. It was the culminating event of the Ancient Art Academy, a new program at the Getty Villa.

This was the inaugural year of the three-year program, which aims to expand students’ knowledge about ancient art in relation to storytelling, music, and theater. The Ancient Art Academy involved visits to the museum, art-making, role-playing, and, of course, the big performance.

 Queen Arete of Phaeacia performs in Ms. Penalosa’s honors-level language arts classroom

Queen Arete of Phaeacia performs in Ms. Penalosa’s honors-level language arts classroom

Visiting the Galleries, Making Art

A Getty gallery educator first traveled to the students’ classrooms in anticipation of their two field trips to the Getty Villa. At the museum, docents taught students about daily life and storytelling in ancient Greece and Rome by focusing on mythological stories in artworks in the collection.

On June 6, the students invited their families and friends to the museum to explore the galleries and participate in art-making activities. The sixth-graders spoke with enthusiasm about their prior visits as they guided their families through the museum, discussing their favorite artworks and sharing their knowledge.

The objects in the Getty Villa’s collection were also a source of inspiration for the on-site art projects. Families worked on a collaborative mural, which was later integrated into the final performance as a backdrop.

Prairie Vista Middle School students visit the Getty Villa

Prairie Vista Middle School students exploring the galleries of the Getty Villa. (Artwork pictured: Attic Panathenaic Amphora with Lid, 340–339 B.C., attributed to the Marsyas Painter, Greek. Terracotta, 30 7/8 in. high. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 79.AE.147)

A family works on a mural for a sixth-grade performance of Homer's Odyssey

Many families worked together to create a mural, which became the backdrop for the school production.

A family works on a mural for a sixth-grade performance of Homer's Odyssey

Boy sketches an ancient Greek figure on a stage backdrop for Homer's Odyssey

A student carefully adds details to the mural.

Student dressed in an ancient Greek laurel wreath

Some students, like this proud painter, got into character by dressing the part.

Kids at the Getty Villa learning the black-figure vase-painting technique

Families learn the black-figure painting technique. Helen Marish, a talented local artist, developed this project for the event.


Students with a model of the set for Homer's Odyssey

Students created models of the sets.

The performance of The Odyssey was the grand finale. Students designed and created the backdrops, props, and costumes, and they wrote, revised, practiced, and memorized the script. Each classroom was the stage for a different episode of the hero Odysseus’s journey. Some episodes were presented live on June 12, while others were filmed. Follow these links to view videos of the production:

The Spirit of Arts Integration

In the true spirit of arts integration, the performance was the result of an outstanding cooperative effort between the eight subject area teachers including math, science, and language arts. The students and teachers demonstrated incredible dedication, flexibility, and perseverance by collaborating to present such an exceptional production.

The project was also all-inclusive, with students who are English Language Learners serving as narrators to connect the different parts of the story. As special projects teacher David Cooper noted, “I was most impressed by the students’ collaborative effort preparing for their performance day. Utilizing art integration projects to address Common Core collaboration standards is a highly engaging strategy. While well-organized collaboration benefits all students, it also provides English learners with especially helpful opportunities to use specialized and academic English.”

After a successful first year of the Ancient Art Academy, we at the Getty look forward to the next year of collaboration with the Prairie Vista Middle School as we continue this exciting, epic journey.


If you’re interested in bringing similar projects into your own school, visit the Getty’s Resources for the Classroom page, which includes written and video lesson plans for Homer’s Odyssey.