Making Art Accessible for Kids
“Children do not understand art.”
“Art is for adults.”
“An art museum is not a place for kids.”
These misperceptions are all too common, but the Indianapolis Museum of Art strives daily to change them. All across campus, there are spaces and activities for children 2 – 12 to learn and engage with art, helping families interact, and leading to lasting impressions. Capturing this audience is fundamental for the future of art and of our institution. By engaging visitors from a young age, not only do we contribute to the development of a new generation of artists and art lovers, but we also lay the foundation for a new generation of visitors.
Activity Spaces Abound
Family activity spaces can be found throughout the entire museum. Each space is thoughtfully designed to get children and families involved with the art. The purpose of these spaces is to provide hands-on learning experiences to help guests use their senses to create.
Two of these key spaces are the Damon C. and Kay D. Davis Lab and the Indianapolis Star Family Studio, both located on Floor 2. These highly interactive spaces are designed to get kids to create their own art based on exhibits in the Museum.
Earlier this year, the Davis Lab was transformed into a Car Design Studio. The entire car design process could be experienced by visitors age 6 and up through a custom iPad app, which was also available for download through the iTunes App Store. In addition, the space featured a vibrant magnet wall geared toward a slightly younger age group (2-5) where kids could build their own car.
Star Studio is the perfect place to make new discoveries. It has iPads for creating bug drawings, a large-scale Lite Brite wall exploring color relationships, a light table for shape play, along with a dry erase wall that is lined with frames representative of actual frames hanging in the galleries. Young artists can create new masterpieces inside them. On an activity table, materials such as colored masking tape, feathers, and straws are always available for guests to create whatever their imagination can dream. Completed artworks can be hung from metal clothesline and displayed in the space or taken home. Books and blocks also dot the space encouraging social interaction, together with the recently installed photo booth allowing kids to dress up as artists like O’Keeffe, Picasso, and Van Gogh then pose for a “selfie,” which is then projected in the space.
Star Studio is refreshed annually, so there is regularly something new to discover. On Saturdays and Sundays, an adjacent classroom is transformed into a Make & Take Studio where kids can work side-by-side with an IMA teaching artist using traditional and unique materials to create a mini-masterpiece inspired by the IMA collection.
In the Museum’s permanent collection galleries, activity spaces that relate to particular aspects of the collection can be found. For example, in the African art gallery, there is a table that allows kids to work with a grown-up to create their own beaded necklace or bracelet. Through the installed iPads, they can also use an app to “wear” one of the African masks on display.
Another activity space featuring textiles is right next door to the one for African art. This space allows children to feel different textile materials in their raw form. There is also a “dresses through the ages” display that shows how women’s dresses have changed over time and a recently installed quilt-related activity which allows kids and adults to create their own patterns using felt boards. New activity spaces for families are scheduled to open between 2017 and 2019 in our Asian, contemporary design, and contemporary galleries.
Towards More Interactive Exhibits
Family-friendly interactive elements are not limited to the permanent collection galleries. More and more exhibitions now also include activities encouraging participation. Currently in On the Flip Side: Secrets on the Backs of Paintings (closing in October 2016) an activity called Operation Decode lets guests play detective to determine the name of the artist, the materials used to create an artwork, as well as the identity of its previous owners. In Tradition Reborn: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics (closing September 18, 2016), there is a “touch table” featuring tools, ceramic forms, and different types of clay and glazes. Since the actual artworks cannot be touched, the touch table allows guests to appreciate the tactile nature of the objects on display and learn about the process of making these objects. Even though these activities were not exclusively geared toward children, they have both proven very popular with our younger visitors.
In the bicentennial exhibition entitled 19 Stars of Indiana Art May 2016 – Jan 2017) we will include two family friendly experiences. The first activity will allow kids and adults to contribute to an Indiana-inspired landscape by creating and adding paper-made flowers, insects, and birds, while a large interactive table will be available for families to explore the connections between the artists on view and the state of Indiana. During the summer families will also have the opportunity to play mini golf in our sculpture court with holes designed by local artists and inspired by Indiana history, art, and prominent figures.
Mark Your Calendar
While the IMA has activities intended for kids year-round, there are also a number of special events geared specifically toward families.
The first Saturday of every month marks Family Day at the IMA. Family Day themes change monthly, and all Family Days have activities unique to the day, including make-and-take art projects that encourage children to experience art in new and different ways. Community Days are also a good way to take advantage of all the family activities at the IMA, as they are full of kid-friendly programming both inside and outside. Community days are offered free of charge and occur throughout the year, including on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Spring and Fall Equinox, and Summer and Winter Solstice.
Our younger guests, ages 2 – 5, can enjoy wee Wednesdays along with their favorite grown-up. This weekly program features sing-alongs, gallery art hunts, and hands-on art activities that have been curated especially for this younger audience.
Each summer the entire Museum campus comes alive with kids for six weeks in June and July. Weeklong camps are offered for children ages 4 -13. Each camp has a different theme, so kids can come for more than one and have a completely new experience each time.
As you can see from the numerous experiences and programs above, in the past few years the IMA has made a conscious effort to create informal learning environments and programs where families feel comfortable to bring their children and where kids of various ages are free to learn about and experiment with art. Our hope is to contribute to the understanding that art museums can indeed be for everyone, including kids, for whom these experiences can provide a nice complement to the more formal art training they receive in school.
About the Author
Before joining the IMA, where she is currently the Director of the Interpretation, Media, and Evaluation department, Silvia worked for 10 years as a project manager and evaluator for a number of technology-based projects in and for museums in Europe and the US. Whilst embarking on her professional career, Silvia has also continued her academic studies gaining a PhD at Sorbonne University in France, where she also teaches Museums and New Media and Research and Evaluation methods.