Friday, 23 October 2009
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
So we have come to the final day of our trip - and it was a really inspiring finale - particularly to see two spaces that had under 4 spaces that were so central to their aims. They were aesthetically very different (one bold and bright, the other neutral and natural), but both contained some really interesting things, and in particular we got lots of practical ideas (etch-a-sketch, magnadoodle pattern printing, Buddha boards, IKEA furniture, sorting activities...) Laura Matzer showed us around the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, which opened in 1978 during the first wave of Children's Museums. They have no collection, although the curator works with Laura to choose work to have on loan during exhibitions. They also take touring exhibitions and had one from Brooklyn Children's Museum about pattern. They are also about to have one about Studio Ghibli which has been touring many venues for a long time with some serious thought behind it - Laura gave us papers about its theoretical underpinnings which I look forward to reading. She also suggested several other places that we could look into online, and was also interested in Reggio Emilia approaches... Lots of food for thought (yet again! - need to find some thinking time!)
No visit to Phoenix could be complete without a visit to this amazing cactus desert park. We saw catuses: lots of them - but all different varieties. We also jackrabbits, desert woodpeckers that live inside the giant saguaro cactus (which only lives in this part of the world in the Sonaran Desert), lizards, desert quails, parrots (possibly love birds?) - and also - HUMMING BIRDS feeding off beautiful desert flowers. They were amazing and our photos do not do the wildlife justice (no prizes for us for Wildlife Photographer of the Year, although Alex's parrot is particularly amazing). The desert is not barren at all but really rich and colourful. It was amazing to see the vegetation and go inside some traditional houses made from plants. The dead cactuses were like skeletons and surprisingly hard and barky like trees. The park was surrounded by huge red rock hills and mountains and we watched the sun go down between the cactuses and the birds going to roost.
Phoenix Art Museum had the most different philosophy of any that we have visited - it could even be the polar opposite of the San Diego New Children's Museum. The thinking behind the Children's Gallery was not about being hands-on or making things, rather it was about trying to develop visual literacy, often using language, but again with collections at its heart. An interesting shift though about use of language and prioritising this over kinaesthetic learning in a way, and I am sure there will be some interesting reflections to come later about whether this was equally to do with the political differences between Arizona (conservative) and California (more liberal)... It was great to meet Kathryn Blake and share some of her ideas for the new strategy and thinking about museum behaviours and not setting up false expectations for a museum visit by having a manic hands-on space.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
OK - so we have to rub it in. As well as working really hard, we are managing to have a small bit of play time. So we spent Saturday afternoon and evening in Santa Monica. It has a pier that is 100 years old, traditional wooden boards, and lined with fairground rides, stalls and entertainers. At the very end sat a busker: Mr Larry Dallas Poling. He sang, played a mahogany guitar and harmonica and it was beautiful. When he got to Neil Young's Heart of Gold, I had a bit of an emotional moment trying to take in the amazing views, sounds, waves, seagulls, pelican (!). Needless to say I bought his CD. You can check him out here.
Doing so much that we haven't had time to keep this up - sorry to loyal followers! So, just to go back to Saturday's events. My cousins Simon and Lisa recommended that we visit a place called the Skirball Center: it's a massive Jewish Museum, but prides itself on this amazing Noah's Ark exhibition for children which is all hands-on, interactive, fun and not too much explicit learning, all intuitive, no text or instructions. We were not disappointed.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Following a late breakfast of pancakes and waffles at the Farmer's Market, we headed to LACMA to meet Karen Satzman. LACMALab no longer runs and the Boone Gallery is being refurbed, so I was unsure how useful this trip would be compared with others. My doubts were unfounded: we had fantastic discussions about family programmes, their NexGen programme for families and teens. Found out all sorts of useful things for Visual Dialogues. Also discovered that art has been removed from the curriculum here along with music and PE as they are 'not academic subjects'! Could not believe it. It puts museums in a strong position as they can be the creative providers, but also means it is hard for people to get time out of school to go on a gallery visit. Catch 22. While the Boone is being refurbished, they have a temporary one housed in the brand new Korean Gallery. A haven of Zen-like calm, this was the absolute antithesis of yesterday and nevertheless equally wonderful. One set task in the family room involved learning to do Korean brush painting. We had a go: surprisingly difficult but requires such concentration and meant the space was a really peaceful and chilled family zone compared with the often noisy and manic spaces.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
Oh wow! This place prides itself being unique in that it is a children's museum and a contemporary art museum all in one. There are no permanent collections, and every 18 months, the entire museum closes for a redisplay with new commissions. Based on thinking by Alan Kaprow (really need to read that book, Liz), it opened in 2008 and the first exhibition was 'Child's Play'. We were taken round by yet another lovely person, Lauren Popp, who manages the education programme, to see the latest display which only opened last week - 'Animal Art'. All about sensory overload, immersion, experiencing things in a bodily way. And do people know that they are playing in/with contemporary art? I don't know - but I am not sure that it matters. Something to think about further. It explored animals, creation, extinction, evolution - but in such a way as you don't need to engage with this. They have 3 concepts: think, play, create, and the whole experience is geared around these, with the art experience being the 'play' bit. And the artworks were fantastic: some had been made by artists who work with children often, others had never done things like this before. There was a Trojan Horse that filled the entire atrium space - where you could go in and they held story-telling, making stations everywhere with guides who were all art students leading bat-making workshops, clay making outside. There was a bubble machine, a bouncy castle that was a piece of contemporary art. Above all, an amazing balloon creature that they are going to plot as it withers and dies like an animal by photographing and displaying images in the gallery. Really inspirational and I am sure that we can take plenty of ideas from this. Fuzzy felt wall, even a climbing wall that was a work of art. And intimate spaces for younger people: a Barn Dance barn where light switches at toddler level activated lights, disco balls and line dancing music. A beautiful house with birds linking a school in Tihuana (over the border in Mexico) through an outreach project with this museum. Need to think more, but I think it's the most exciting experience/event I have seen that makes contemporary art fun and brings it properly to life. Integration of graphics, aesthetics of building and furniture plus values around recycling was done impressively.
Just so you know where we went after work yesterday!
We spent Wednesday at the Getty Center where we'd arranged to meet with Rebecca Edwards who manages the Family Programmes, along with her colleagues Katherine who oversees the Family Room. We also met with the Manager of off Education Programmes, Elizabeth Escamilla.
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Here's our drive to Downtown LA - totally bereft of real people, but full of scary traffic. A few near misses, but all adds to the experience! The amazing building is the Walt Disney Concert Hall which we toured around - fabulous gardens on the roof as well as amazing design inside - Gehry. Parked somewheere underground underneath a big bank (or similar) - the parking attendant could not believe we were going to walk to the concert hall even though it was literally 2 minutes' walk away. People just do not walk anywhere here.
I was very excited here as it was the first glimpse through torrential downpour of the Hollywood sign! My photo is not so impressive however! Have attached here for amusement value - can you make it out? No, neither can I. But I promise, we could see it on the hills opposite, and the views once the skies cleared was pretty amazing. Could see right across LA and get a sense of the flatness of the central part of the city, with the massive skyscrapers appearing like ghosts through the mist, and then canyons and hills surrounding the city.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Getty Family Room, Getty Museum (and the Getty Villa), Los Angeles, California - Rebecca Edwards
In its current form, the Family Room primarily makes connections with collections although developments planned for 2010 intend to enable more art-making activities and will draw on the experience of the Family Art Lab programme. Key questions currently being addressed by staff at the Getty include how to make interactive spaces intuitive (i.e. no text), how to develop open-ended, collaborative and multi-levelled activities, and how the aesthetic of the environment impacts on learning.
Issues around text, aesthetics and intergenerational experience are central to our own thinking, as is the relationship between dedicated gallery spaces and learning programmes. Rebecca Edwards has done a great deal of research on the topic, and has spoken and written widely about it.
LACMALab and Boone Children’s Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), California – Karen Satzman, Manager: Art Classes and Family Programmes
LACMALab, the research and development unit of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, commissions artists to create original artworks as interactives. Works are not exclusively aimed at children, rather they have a goal of public engagement for all ages. Previous artists have included Allan Kaprow, Jennifer Steinkamp, Eleanor Antin, Jim Isermann, Daniel Martinez. LACMALab have also worked with collections material and within universities and art schools to create installations.
The key aspect of this visit would be to find out about commissioning original artworks in a space not just for children, but for all visitors’ engagement. It may also be possible to meet with some of the commissioned artists to hear their perspectives.
New Children’s Museum, San Diego, California – Lauren Popp, Education Programmes Coordinator
This is a brand new museum that opened in May 2008, as yet with little external research, and has been recommended by Rebecca Edwards at the Getty as somewhere with a new perspective that is ‘phenomenal’. Again, original artwork is specifically commissioned for the space, but here it is primarily for children, rather than for all visitors. From the museum’s website:
The New Children’s Museum opened just in time to meet an urgent community need, providing early exposure to the visual arts at a time when arts curriculum is increasingly cut from schools. And with a focus on sustainability, The New Children’s Museum provides an environment that encourages active minds, healthy bodies and unstructured play.
“Our goal is to inspire children to think, play and create by providing accessible and meaningful art experiences,” stated Rachel Teagle PhD, Executive Director of the Museum. “We are a unique hybrid of a children’s museum and an art museum.”
“The New Children’s Museum exhibits contemporary works of art for children and families,” added Dr. Laurie Mitchell, President of the Museum’s Board of Directors. “We approach contemporary art with a playful spirit, and take children’s need for play seriously.”
The Museum experience features innovative, provocative artworks that kids can touch, climb, or move (exhibitions); messy, hands-on art making opportunities (studios); and a variety of arts-based classes and camps (Arts Education Center). Rounded out with an organic cafe, unique retail shop, abundant seating, quiet space for parents and infants, and an outdoor park, the Museum provides a comfortable and engaging environment for the entire family to enjoy together.
Arizona Museum for Youth, Mesa, Arizona – Laura Matzer, Curator of Education
Founded in 1980 as the first US children’s museum with a focus on art, AMY has been recommended by Rebecca Edwards as well as colleagues at Tate Modern as somewhere in which the ambience and environment itself creates an interesting family learning dynamic. Its intention is to integrate looking-at-art activities with making-art activities and it is also one of the only museums in this research visit that makes explicit learning about art processes. Laura Matzer completed her MA thesis on interactivity in several US museums (Speed, New Orleans Museum of Art, DeYoung and Phoenix Art Museum), so it will be interesting to hear about this research.
PHX Kids Gallery, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona – Kathryn Blake, Curator for Education
Kathryn Blake presented an interesting paper at the Getty Symposium on ‘Museum Behaviours’. The focus here would be to explore the pros and cons that arise with having separate identified spaces for children and to look at how the Kids Gallery equips family visitors to visit other museum spaces in a confident way. Like the Clore Interactive Gallery, this is a space that uses original artworks from the collection, and we are interested to explore further the balance between innovative interpretation and conservation restrictions. This children’s gallery also incorporates its own website and we are keen to explore the potential of digital technologies, both specialist and everyday.
- To facilitate social and intergenerational activity within family groups, in which learning is a byproduct of fun and enjoyment, rather than a primary motivation
- To stimulate curiosity and imagination, play and experimentation through hands on, creative and open-ended activities
- To put people in the mood for art, to encourage an imaginative and questioning response that is further developed in the surrounding galleries
- To create a sustainable gallery that complements the family programme, encourages repeat visits and can be maintained within existing resources