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
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.qag.qld.gov.au www.nga.gov.au www.portrait.gov.au www.ngv.vic.gov.au www.museumvictoria.com.au www.artgallery.sa.gov.au www.artgallery.wa.gov.au www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au www.gallerykids.com.au