This is hilarious. I want young children telling me about every museum I go to.
It’s not an official MoMA audio tour, but I wonder if this is something it or other art museums might actually consider creating. I love the irreverence and fun it has with modern art, but irreverent fun is something that museums tend to be very cautious about.
Is this something that might start to open up intimidating museums to non-traditional visitors. Thoughts?
This has the potential to ease non-traditional visitors into the temple that is MOMA (or any other institution for that matter) but I think what makes it great will be the first thing lost when it is an audio tour.
So, imagine walking through an exhibit with a kid.. whatever age, so long as they are verbal and self-propelled. They run from one artifact or art work to another, pointing out what they like, asking questions about things they don’t get, and voicing loudly and regularly, “this is ugly”, “this looks like candy”, “I want one” etc. The adults in the group (let’s pretend they aren’t shushing them) are hysterical, but also trying to understand their kiddos’ comments and answer questions in ways the kid will understand. In so doing, the adults have to engage with the piece as an adult AND through the eyes of the child, AND then talk to each other and the child about what they see. THEN they can re-engage or negotiate understanding. That’s pretty amazing stuff.
(Caveat: I have not heard the audio tour, so my understanding of what it entails might be skewed)
An audio tour takes the interactivity out. It just does. When a family walks through an exhibit wearing headphones they often aren’t talking. The headsets are great because you can fast forward, rewind and skip entire sections, but you can’t do that with a real live child.
You lose the process.
Is it still amazing? Yes, sure. I think I’d enjoy the MOMA more through the voices of children. But rather than being able to engage with a young mind, it’ll be more like an episode of “Kids say the darndest things.” It has value in its own way, but doesn’t capitalize on all its strengths.
Instead what I’d like to see are child-led or family-led tours of institutions (okay, maybe just single galleries), where you are given the chance to see things from a different perspective and consequently engage with and question that perspective in real-time. Wouldn’t that be exciting?
I disagree with your reading of this as a “kids say the darndest things,” I see it more as an entry point for people (not necessarily kids or people with kids) to be able to engage with modern art in ways other than dismissing it right off the bat. It might begin with just listening to kids say funny things, but by getting someone to spend more than 3 seconds looking at a piece of art the audio tours are encouraging actual engagement and deep thinking.
I don’t think it takes out the interactivity, because the tours encourage mental interactivity, and what if you don’t know any children and don’t want to talk to strange kids in a museum? These seem perfectly capable of fostering conversations between adult visitors. I know I would probably want to share these kid-commentaries with whoever I was visiting with and then discuss. But I’m already a museum person, so I might not be the best example.
I’m interested in your ideas about engaging real live kids in museum galleries, especially one that doesn’t normally court children like a modern art gallery. Because I think a lot of the engagement with children you talk about might happen organically if intimidating museums made themselves welcoming to young children. But how could these kinds of museums show parents that they and their young children are welcome in the first place? I heard about one museum (the Danforth) that organized a “bring your baby to the museum” day that has been quite successful. Having special “kids days” might be an option, but I think it would be better if young families felt welcome in intimidating museums ALL the time. How might that be achieved?
Like I said, I haven’t heard the entire audio tour, so I can’t say that it is a “KSDT” or not, just that it was the first impression I had. I think I acknowledged the fact that it would be a good entry point for some people who are otherwise intimidated or bored by art (which I sympathize with because, landscapes make me weep). If I failed to make that explicit, that’s my mistake.
Some people, like you (or me) would really get a kick out of this intriguing audio tour and want to talk about it. Heck, I haven’t even been and I want to talk about it already. From personal experience (which is not the end all be all of visitor experience) most of the people in galleries with me are not talking.
That might change if the audio tour was engaging enough, and I think you’re right that I missed that. It’s a big hurdle though, that reluctance to talk in an art gallery. There’s a lot of social pressure to shuffle quietly past the art and not say anything to anyone. I suppose that sounds like I’m a pessimist, but it is appropriate to enter into projects with eyes wide open on the possibilities.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Children’s Museum of Richmond, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Creative Discovery Museum have family volunteer programs, I imagine that could be (possibly are) used to develop family-led tours of their exhibits. Being a volunteer, and supervised but not controlled, gives a kid the chance to be the expert or facilitator. It would be hard I think for some parents to take the step back for it to work well, but that’s why we train people.
Some museums have teen volunteer programs (The Field Museum in Chicago) but they seem geared toward arts and crafts after or before the gallery visits.
If a museum, art or otherwise, is interested in bringing in new visitors I think they could find a valuable tool in kids and family volunteers. Like interns (another touchy subject), it would require more planning and training than an envelope-stuffer, but once the training is done that kid/family is going to be pumped to represent your museum. They are going to want to get out and tell people stuff about things. That kid is probably going to be engaged with other museums and be comfortable being in and talking about museums. You’ve created a lifelong advocate and friend who will probably bring others into the fold during her/his life.
Sorry this is so long.
My last thought, because I can hear alarms in my head “but not everyone will want a family tour”; the tours would have to be scheduled for specific times and well-advertised so that people who are somehow offended by talking in a gallery, can visit another gallery during that time. We have to respect the levels of participation, forcing my Spousal Unit to interact with kids is only going to result in one fewer visitor. That said, SU might appreciate tours led by teenagers/really excited and informed college students, like the guide we had at the Motown Museum or the Tenement Museum.
Places like the Cleveland Museum of Art have some fantastic programs for babies, kids, teens, adults, but they are adult-led. The Detroit Institute of Arts had a lot of (happy) kids running around, so something about how it is marketed is working. These were visitors mind you, not tour guides/volunteers.
It might be worth looking at the mission statements for museums. The DIA: Creating experiences that help each visitor find personal meaning in art.
The Cleveland Art Museum: “The mission of the Cleveland Museum of Art is to fulfill its dual roles as one of the world’s most distinguished comprehensive art museums and one of northeastern Ohio’s principal civic and cultural institutions. The museum, established in 1913 “for the benefit of all the people forever,” seeks to bring the pleasure and meaning of art to the broadest possible audience in accordance with the highest aesthetic, intellectual, and professional standards. Toward this end the museum augments, preserves, exhibits, and fosters understanding of the outstanding collections of world art it holds in trust for the public and presents complementary exhibitions and programs. The Cleveland Museum of Art embraces its leadership role in collecting, scholarship, education, and community service.”
The Motown Museum: “To preserve the history and legacy of Motown Records Corporation through the conservation of Motown’s original site on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. To educate and motivate people, especially youth, through exhibitions and programs that promote the values of vision, creativity and entrepreneurship. To build awareness of the global impact of Motown and its artistic contributions to entertainment.”
I could go on, but by now you’re asleep and I’m sorry. For a good study about why mission statements matter, I’d suggest Catherine M. Lewis’ book, The Changing Face of Public History: The Chicago Historical Society and the Transition of an American Museum. Lewis uses the Chicago Historical Society as a case study to explore the changing dynamics between institutions and their communities. OR The Participatory Museum (which you can read online) by Nina Simon.
So. Yes there is a level of interactivity possible with an audio guide, especially a kid-driven guide. But. I think museums should strive to up their participation levels. One way to do that is to enlist children and families to act as facilitators and guides in real-time.