DES­TI­NA­TION AUS­TRALIA For the young at art

Our lead­ing gal­leries are ca­ter­ing wisely to a new gen­er­a­tion of switched-on ju­nior vis­i­tors, re­ports Ju­dith Elen

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

N a mis­sion to en­tice, ac­com­mo­date and en­thral gen­er­a­tion Z and even ZZ, Aus­tralian art gal­leries are set­ting up work­rooms that are in­dis­tin­guish­able from play­rooms, spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions and pro­grams, child­fo­cused tours and more.

And it’s not just the lit­tle ones who get to have fun; par­ents en­joy a new kind of in­ter­ac­tion with their off­spring, ex­plor­ing works to­gether and watch­ing while they side­step the bar­ri­ers be­tween home craft and high art.

At Bris­bane’s state-of-the-art Gallery of Mod­ern Art, last year’s Pi­casso and His Col­lec­tion ex­hi­bi­tion at­tracted more than 15,000 school stu­dents and run­ning along­side it was a pro­gram called Yo Pi­casso Kids. In­spired by Pablo Pi­casso’s fas­ci­na­tion with mas­quer­ade, work­shops taught chil­dren how to in­vent, shape and dec­o­rate masks; the stu­dents dis­cov­ered that this se­ri­ous, grown-up artist also loved cos­tumes, strange hats and play­ing dress-ups with his chil­dren. The young ex­per­i­menters could view ex­otic masks he col­lected from Africa and Ocea­nia, and imag­ine the buzz when they saw their own cre­ations dis­played on the gallery walls.

Cru­cially, all of this took place in space per­ma­nently ded­i­cated to chil­dren. The Chil­dren’s Art Cen­tre at GoMA com­bines a child-sized ex­hi­bi­tion space with work and gar­den-view rooms on the gallery’s first and park lev­els. This is head­quar­ters for the chil­dren’s cen­tre and it has fa­cil­i­ties and re­sources to op­er­ate free pro­grams here and at the Queens­land Art Gallery.

Launched in De­cem­ber 2006 with the open­ing of GoMA, the cen­tre was the prod­uct of a con­tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tion that had been es­pe­cially de­signed for ju­niors at QAG in 1998. This fo­cus on chil­dren as the au­di­ence for an ex­hi­bi­tion was a first for the gallery and ground­break­ing for mu­se­ums across the world.

Reg­u­lar work­shops in the Chil­dren’s Art Cen­tre at GoMA have chil­dren work­ing side by side with con­tem­po­rary artists; there are fes­ti­vals and per­for­mances across both gal­leries, and the fo­cus is on cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tions, with ac­tiv­ity books and in­for­ma­tion la­bels de­signed es­pe­cially for chil­dren.

Since its open­ing, the cen­tre has at­tracted more than one mil­lion vis­i­tors. There is even a weekly pro­gram, Tod­dler Tues­day, of games, move­ment, looking and mak­ing, for chil­dren from 18 months to three years.

Vis­it­ing the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia in Can­berra at the end of last year while the De­gas ex­hi­bi­tion was be­ing set up, I wan­dered into the green-walled chil­dren’s room. It held a small stage for a pup­pet the­atre, a bas­ket of tu­tus, jock­eys’ silks and caps for dress-ups, and space for ac­tiv­i­ties, such as gi­ant 3-D jigsaws of De­gas’s paint­ings, and move­ment, in­clud­ing a bal­let barre for lit­tle legs to prac­tise on.

Ev­ery­where cu­ra­tors are lift­ing eye­catch­ing high­lights from the art­works on show to fire young imag­i­na­tions without los­ing sight of the orig­i­nal works: frothy tu­tus, an­i­mal masks, se­quins and colour. Pro­grams at the NGA in com­ing months will in­volve head­dresses and masks, coloured inks, an­cient magic and mythic char­ac­ters, in work­shops and sto­ry­telling.

The out­door Sculp­ture Gar­den at the NGA has its own Chil­dren’s Trail, with an ac­com­pa­ny­ing book­let. As long as they’re old enough to read, chil­dren can fol­low the trail (a num­bered map at the back is a bit like a trea­sure trail), iden­tify the sculp­tures from the full-page pho­to­graphs and for­mu­late their re­sponses in words and draw­ings to the book­let’s ques­tions and sug­ges­tions.

Can­berra’s Na­tional Por­trait Gallery has pro­duced an ex­cit­ing poster-sized folder, its cover a jum­ble of well-used pen­cils, paints and crayons, ti­tled Por­trait School 2009. It out­lines a com­pre­hen­sive list of pro­grams aimed at en­rich­ing art stud­ies for a wide group, from preschool­ers to year 12s. Themes in­clude friend­ship, mir­rors, ex­pres­sions, com­mu­nity and his­tory, all the way to power and pa­tron­age. Ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams are free and run for 90 min­utes Mon­days to Fri­days, in groups of 15; teach­ers need to book about two weeks ahead.

At the Art Gallery of West­ern Aus­tralia in Perth, a self-guided in­ter­ac­tive fam­ily space called Won­der­land uses colour, tex­tures, sights and sounds, art lan­guage and ideas. It is part of the gallery’s new State Art Col­lec­tion dis­play and is linked with two ac­ces­si­ble self-

Join the tots: Lit­tle ones and their car­ers can take ad­van­tage of a wide range of arts pro­grams at gal­leries across the na­tion guided gallery trails called Won­der­lust. There are also hol­i­day ac­tiv­i­ties and prac­ti­cal art-mak­ing work­shops.

The Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria op­er­ates free chil­dren’s films, fam­ily trails and an ex­ten­sive pro­gram of hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties. Fully su­per­vised work­shops are tai­lored to suit age groups from five to 15. Ear­lier this year, a two-hour ses­sion on cre­at­ing an­i­mal pup­pets ran in con­junc­tion with a spe­cial chil­dren’s ex­hi­bi­tion, The Cricket and the Dragon, which fo­cused on an­i­mals in Asian art. A re­lated se­ries of free demon­stra­tions and talks in­volved origami, paint­ing and watch­ing while an artist sculpted a baby ele­phant from wire mesh.

Nei­ther are tiny tots for­got­ten at the NGV. Ev­ery Sun­day, the Art­cart awaits young vis­i­tors (from three years old) for no-cost ses­sions such as turn­ing trash into art­works and mak­ing 3-D col­lages with artist Ros­alie Gas­coigne. Also for three to five-year-olds, the monthly Tot Spot of­fers hour-long ses­sions with par­ents and tots, ex­plor­ing the gallery and cre­at­ing, per­haps with paint, mak­ing masks or sto­ries ($14 in­cludes cof­fee for the car­ers; book­ings nec­es­sary).

Also in Mel­bourne, chil­dren have their own Chil­dren’s Gallery at the Mu­seum of Vic­to­ria, which fosters self-di­rected learn­ing through looking and play­ing. There are live spec­i­mens, life-size repli­cas and ob­jects in their nat­u­ral con­texts. The aim is to en­cour­age chil­dren to make com­par­isons be­tween them­selves and ob­jects on dis­play by touch­ing, looking and lis­ten­ing.

In Ade­laide, the Art Gallery of South Aus­tralia runs a broad pro­gram for fam­i­lies (chil­dren must be ac­com­pa­nied by an adult), in­clud­ing fab­u­lous craft work­shops and school-hol­i­day pro­grams, and free Fam­ily Drop-in Days one Sun­day a month, suit­able for chil­dren five to 10 and in­volv­ing mak­ing works such as Ja­panese No the­atre masks, origami, book cov­ers, car­toons and lanterns.

The gallery’s Eye Spy Club, with a one­off join­ing fee of $5 and op­er­at­ing two Sun­days a month, takes chil­dren on a guided tour of dis­cov­ery en­riched with ac­tiv­i­ties to foster the imagination.

But per­haps among AGSA’s most in­no­va­tive moves is its Small Talk pro­gram, in which pri­mary school chil­dren, af­ter a process of thought and dis­cus­sion aimed at stim­u­lat­ing vis­ual think­ing’’, write la­bels for art­works on dis­play. The spe­cially coloured la­bels that go up on the gallery walls al­low the chil­dren to have their say about the works and are equally in­struc­tive for vis­it­ing adults.

Th­ese la­bels be­come part of a self­guided Small Talk Trail. The pro­gram op­er­ates through vis­it­ing school groups, with four clos­ing dates a year for sub­mis­sions, and la­bels are dis­played un­til the next se­ries is cho­sen.

At the Art Gallery of NSW in Syd­ney, chil­dren have their own di­rect-ac­cess web­site, which lists hol­i­day work­shops, free Sun­day per­for­mances and ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing pup­petry, car­toon­ing and sto­ry­telling, and char­ac­ter tours’’, which have in­cluded Gert by Sea, a bathing-capped beauty who seems to have stepped out of Charles Meere’s paint­ing, Aus­tralian Beach Pat­tern . The gallery con­ducts chil­dren’s trails and monthly Tours for Tots ($15), and of­fers a colour leaflet that out­lines dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the col­lec­tion for a self-guided Kids Au­dio Tour. Us­ing an iPod, youngsters can choose an art­work they like and ex­plore its hid­den de­tails or progress through an en­tire area of linked works.

It seems our off­spring have ev­ery chance to be cul­ture-con­scious as well as techno-savvy. www.por­­se­umvic­to­­­­

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