The Young At Art
Monterey Museum of Art's shared exhibit with a Japanese children's art museum opens a whole new world of possibilities.
Thursday, May 3, 2001
International Intersection: Hamada Children''s Museum of Art Curator Noriko Takano gets creative during a recent visit to the Monterey Museum of Art. Also pictured are two works featured in MMA''s "Children''s Voices" exhibit: A Girl With a Cat (top) by 10-year-old Sapanna R. Punjabi of India, and Aboriginal Man and White Man Meet by Aaron, a 14-year-old Australian.A great trip through foreign lands led by the hands and pure eyes of kids is now on view at the Monterey Museum of Art on Pacific. The fruit of an art exchange program between MMA and a Japanese museum, "Children''s Voices: Artwork from the Hamada Children''s Museum of Art" features 100 works of art by children from around the world. One sees colorful faces, fantastic animals, indigenous clothing styles, houses, huts and neighborhoods that prompted children artists to express themselves.
The two museums believe they are building a better future by sensitizing young minds and providing opportunities in art appreciation and expression sorely lacking in today''s elementary schools. "The visual arts, music and drama develop the interior life of a child," says Sandra Still, MMA director of education. "It''s not about preparing budding artists so much as nurturing a quality of life. These disciplines help them work things out and think in ways outside the box. Math and science have right and wrong answers--the arts have much more than that. It''s about manual dexterity, team building, problem solving, the exploration of possible solutions to a problem."
MMA''s participation in the art exchange is a natural extension of its art education and outreach programs. In fact, since the late 1970s, the museum has been making up for public school art education deficiencies with its Museum on Wheels and Creative Response programs, and, in recent years, by conducting art "View and Do" workshops for kids. MMA also sponsors an annual Youth Arts Festival, children-directed lectures, myriad field trips and docent tours, as well as internships for high school and college students.
These kinds of programs--exposure to diverse art forms, hands-on experiences--are vitally important for children in their impressionable years. Just like learning a foreign language at a young age, developing the eye, mind and heart early allows a child to achieve something unique, tangible, rewarding: "I am here. I did this. I matter."
Developing an appreciation for one''s own visual expression and that of other cultures, supporters believe, puts a child at ease, uncovers the mysterious, and makes the world a friendlier place for them.
But for years, school districts'' budgetary constraints have caused the axe to fall on art, drama and music programs. Arts always get cut first. Is the interior life of a child worth mortgaging? Fractions and Petri dishes are important, but can''t a community have it all? Can''t administrators get creative and devise curricula that address all aspects of a growing young person?
The genesis for this art exchange program occurred in the spring of 1999, when Dr. Akaha of the Monterey Institute of International Studies contacted the Monterey Museum of Art after friends at the Hamada Museum asked him if he knew of a museum in the USA that might want to participate in international art exhibitions. He did, indeed, know of such a place--and it was right down the street.
After visits from Shimane Prefectural Government and city of Hamada officials, and Hamada Children''s Museum of Art Curator Noriko Takano, the relationship was sealed. Hamada gained a "sister museum" and MMA a cooperative partner to work with in pursuit of its mission to vitalize kids'' art sensibilities.
Hamada is a relatively small community on the China Sea coast of Japan. Tiny farms scattered across a rolling terrain separate the region''s small towns and villages. The Hamada Children''s Museum of Art stands out as a visual and conceptual surprise. A sleek, five story structure of contemporary lines melding stone and glass, it encloses 20,000 square feet of gallery and library space, offices and workshops outfitted for painting, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture and, well, just playing around.
Opened in 1996, the museum focuses on two fundamental concepts, according to Hamada Mayor Tetsuo Uzo: "To see and to create." Toward that end, the institution works with Hamada schools, holding a "museum day" when a whole class spends the entire day looking at and creating art.
The Boys and Girls Club of the Monterey Peninsula has been singled out by the Japanese to participate in a related enterprise. During the summer of 1999, the MMA exhibited artwork by the Boys and Girls Club. In two-dimensions and vivid color, the kids revealed themselves through techniques learned in club workshops conducted by fine arts instructor Jim Sarno. Last July, three kids from the Boys and Girls Club, accompanied by Sarno and Boys and Girls Club Director of Development Donna Ferraro, traveled to Hamada as guests of the children''s museum to participate in a week-long workshop with child artists from France, China, Korea and Japan.
"It was incredible," recalls Sarno. "There was a boy and two girls from Seaside and Carmel Valley, ages 9 to 13. It was quite a shock for them, first, to take such a long journey, then to be met by such a different culture-it stretched them pretty good. Creatively, they worked well with the others. The biggest thing was leaving their own families. But at the end, there were a lot of tears as they had to leave their new Japanese families."
Sarno gets passionate when he points out what was gained by the American children. "One of our kids said, ''We could learn a lot from the Japanese--everything is so clean and everyone is so polite. When I grow up, I''m going to organize groups to clean up our streets and neighborhoods.'' There was the great lesson of believing in possibilities. If you want to do something--if you can dream it--then it''s possible. One girl said after the trip that she wanted to be a lawyer so she could help people. A program like this allows them to dream."
Opening to the World
Hamada museum curator Takano points out that it''s the very differences in children''s art styles that bring young viewers together. "In the foreign children''s pictures, they paint their culture--different styles of houses, wedding ceremonies, clothes, even letters of their respective alphabets," she says. "Japanese children are surprised to see these different cultures. Japanese children don''t know the world--they are interested to see these things."
Takano explains how her museum has taken the experience a step further. "We have a postcard table with materials set up in the gallery with international children''s art. A Japanese child who likes one of the pictures can write a postcard to the artist, to which we attach a translation. The child can even draw a self-portrait, which is also sent along. They say, ''I want to meet that artist. I want to go to another country!'' "
MMA''s Still adds, "One of our kids received a stack of postcards with the translations and portraits and he was thrilled ... and amazed."
Speaking of this month''s "Children''s Voices" MMA exhibit, Still says, "Exposure to different cultures from around the world makes us all feel a little closer. And this exhibition, with all the related activities, serves this purpose. This month, in addition to the Hamada show of art from places such as South Africa, India, Australia, Korea, China, France and the States, we have the Monterey Youth Arts Festival featuring middle school art work from around the county, many school tours coming through, migrant farm workers'' kids will be bused in throughout the summer to see the shows and take a ''hands-on'' art class, and a 16-member dance troupe will perform a Kagura dance at the Boys and Girls Club and the Steinbeck Center in Salinas."
Recently, while Takano was in Monterey to interview local adult artists vying for an artist-in-residence position in Hamada, she videotaped Boys and Girls Club art workshops, as well as the Monterey Museum''s "Museum on Wheels" in action at the Carmel River, Salispuedes and Marina del Mar Elementary schools. "I was very surprised because there were so many children who came from other countries," she says. "Teachers spoke in English, then after that in Spanish. It was a very different experience for me."
The solution to the art education for children problem, then, seems to be a coalition of interested parties devoted to making things happen. Locally, a foundation is being laid for the future by MMA, the Hamada Children''s Museum of Art, the Boys and Girls Club of the Monterey Peninsula, energetic parent volunteers, and the occasional inspiring elementary school teacher or principal or superintendent.
"Children''s Voices: Artwork from the Hamada Children''s Museum of Art" is on display at the Monterey Museum of Art, 559 Pacific in Monterey, through Sept. 3. A reception for the show will be held on Friday, June 8, from 5:30-7:30pm. For museum hours or more info, call 372-5477.