As distinctive as the art that fills its galleries and performances that grace its stages, so is the population that visits MASS MoCA. As an intern at Kidspace for the past year, I’ve noticed that you never really know who is going to come through the doors—or what the art is going to mean to them. But, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s always going to mean something.
I’ve been exposed to a variety of MASS MoCA’s audiences: school groups, after school programs, artists, and families—and through discussing and creating art I have witnessed visitors leave the museum with a greater understanding of art, themselves, and their community.
Something unique to Kidspace is that from pre-school to middle school, every student in the North Adams and North Berkshire school districts visits the gallery. However, what I realized while working with a fourth grade class, is that although a continuous relationship had been established between the students and Kidspace, they were still missing out on the bigger picture: why their visits to MASS MoCA were important—and it was not until they questioned why an artist would travel from Oregon to North Adams that they began to understand the grand scale of their small town museum. As they continued to make their way through the museum, you could see their demeanor change, aware now of who shared this space with them and the caliber of artistic dialogue taking place between their class and the museum.
The Mona Lisa Project, Kidspace’s after school program combining the practices of yoga and art making, stemmed from a belief in the healing powers of art – giving the girls we worked with an outlet for creativity and freedom of expression—but it also taught them something more than that. The greatest challenge for this specific group of 2nd grade and 9th grade girls was learning how to work together, collaborate, something artists do all the time. With that in mind I created a project for them that forced the younger girls to work together, the older girls to work together, and the younger and older to interact with each other. In some cases they were able to put their reservations with each other aside and work together for the greater good of the art project, and in some cases not. It was almost a better learning experience for the group to have some girls still unwilling to work together, because in the end, those who didn’t changed the entire outcome. There was visual evidence for their lack of communication and unwillingness to participate. All the girls noticed this and commented, thus learning both that teamwork would be essential to the success of their program and that art can be used as a means to bring people together.
Another important aspect of the Kidspace program is bringing our exhibiting artists into the classrooms of the students we work with. Initially I was struck by the power of this program in terms of the experience it creates for the students. It showed them the value of having art during the school day, what it means to be an artist, and establishes in their minds that the work they see in the museums they visit is made by people just like them. Additionally, while working directly with an artist during the residency program, I saw the artwork made by the students change the artist’s perspective of herself and her work as well. Accustomed to following a detailed plan with a specific outcome, the artist soon realized she had to let much of that go while working with children. Art for them needed to be organic, there needed to be room for interpretation throughout the artist’s plan. Soon enough, the artist realized this, and the project was no longer about replicating her exact process but allowed the students to see her work as inspiration and come up with ideas of their own. Her art then became not a means to teach the students about her work, but instead a way to teach them a new medium to express themselves.