Art and Youth: Tips for Museum Engagement

Written by: Holly Zajur

Featured in Number Inc. Issue #85:

As if Tinker Bell had sprinkled her fairy dust upon visitors, the vibrant colors and playful imagery in Shinique Smith’s Wonder and Rainbows brought viewers back to childhood. On view October 9, 2015 through January 10, 2016 at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Wonder and Rainbows featured multidimensional work that highlighted many layers of meanings and influences. Beyond the fairy wings that flew off of the paintings were statements on topics from consumerism to spirituality.

The diversity of Shinique’s work provided the opportunity for all ages to engage with the work and served as a portal for parents to engage with their children about art. While The Frist and museums around the country are wonderful spaces for parents to involve their children with the arts, many caregivers feel unsure of how to talk to kids about art. Samantha Andrews, Assistant Director for Experiential Learning at The Frist and Emmy Award® recipient for the television program ArtQuest: Art is All Around You, shared her knowledge and insight on how parents can utilize their time at the museum with their kids.

Funding for the arts is being cut from schools around the country. But as funding is decreasing, our need for more creative and innovative solutions to today’s issues is rising. Now, more than ever, art must be a component of daily life. As schools reduce their involvement with the arts, parents and caregivers have the opportunity to support the arts in the lives of children. A great way to keep art in your child’s life is to help them feel comfortable interacting with and talking about the art as much as possible.

Andrews first recommends planning ahead for your trip to the museum. Simple things such as visiting the museums website prior to your visit allows visitors to know what will be on display and helps to prioritize what you want to see upon arrival. Free events and activities are also posted on the website to help the public take advantage of the museum’s resources.

You can also bring a notebook for your kids to write or draw about their experience while in the galleries. This can help the conversation to continue when you leave the museum. When you get to the museum, take a moment to situate yourself with the space and what the facility offers. The Frist works hard to create a family-friendly environment. They offer free services such as strollers when you enter and wonderful outdoor seating for your family to bring their own picnic in addition to the kid’s menu at the Café (don’t worry there is plenty of food and beverages for grown-ups too)!

Prepare yourself for the galleries. Check for a docent tour, see if there is a children’s audio guide, use the restroom, and take a moment to go over museum manners with your group. Help kids understand why we follow certain rules in museums, such as not touching the art. Explain to them that the oils on their hands could hurt the art. If they need to do something with their hands, encourage them to create in their notebook. Sharing this information will your kids will provide further understanding to why it is important to protect the art and will encourage them to be on their best behavior. Taking time before entering the galleries will help the group to enjoy the art with fewer distractions.

Once you are in the galleries, allow children to first interact with the work on their own. You can encourage them to write or draw their thoughts in a notebook. Then, come together and spend time discussing the works within the gallery.

Start by asking what colors, shapes, and objects they see. You can then expand into what sounds might they hear, what they feel, and what they think the work means. Try practicing reading comprehension by taking turns reading the labels and discussing them. The work may address society, and you can use this as an opportunity to open the door for conversation about difficult topics. The more time spent with the work provides the opportunity to more meaning to unfold and will leave a larger impact on your experience.

Following your time in the galleries, try creating art of your own! Use the work you have seen to spark your own creative energy. This can be a great reward for good behavior in the galleries and a chance for everyone to get their hands messy. The Frist hosts the Martin ArtQuest ® Gallery, a multigenerational room that the entire family can enjoy. ArtQuest is made of twenty-three different stations that allow you to sit down as a family, reflect, and create. While working together, the space provides another opportunity for conversation about powerful works from the galleries. Even if your local museum does not have a facility like this, try making something at home after your visit. Whatever you make will serve as a token of the experience.

Caregivers should feel confident bringing kids to spaces where they can interact with art. You do not need to be an “art expert” to talk about art and there is no “right” way to engage with work. Make the experience your own. Providing an outlet for kids to engage with work and form their own thoughts and opinions can leave a profound impact. Take it as an opportunity to learn together and the experience will be rewarding for everyone.

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