Pieces of construction paper, aluminum foil, cardboard, and brightly colored cording littered the gallery floor. Amidst the scattered art supplies, fifty giggling kids sat cross-legged with their hands busy cutting, gluing, and decorating their own mobiles.
Sunday, February 15, the Williams College Museum of Art, usually a calm and tranquil retreat, teetered on the verge of organized chaos. The museum’s annual Family Day activities had attracted between 950 to 1000 children and parents from the Williamstown area.
For the past eight years, the educational department at WCMA has hosted a day of art-related family programs at the museum. The event has always been well-received by the community, but this year’s attendance exceeded everyone’s expectations. The museum was prepared to welcome a crowd of around 600 people. Staff and volunteers were surprised, but thrilled, when one and a half times that many people flooded the museum.
In the past, the museum had only been open for Family Day activities between one and four in the afternoon, making overcrowding in the museum a problem. This year’s activities lasted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The extended hours improved traffic flow, so although the museum was full of people, crowds were not a problem.
The theme of this year’s event was “Multi-Sculptural.” Family Day organizers Barbara Robertson, the director of Education for WCMA, Laura Jacobs ‘99, and Anna Rettig ‘98 wanted to educate young museum-goers about the three-dimensional art found in the museum’s permanent collection. Then, the children would have a chance to make their own creations. Jacobs commented, “It was exciting to see a place that is usually so off-limits to children crawling with kids. Family Day makes the museum much more accessible to children.”
Jacobs and Rettig created a gallery directory that led the children through the museum’s permanent exhibits by asking the children to find certain sculptures. The children were asked to find both “Silent Ping-Pong Table and Paddles,” 1972, by Bill Beckley and “Black Door,” 1962, by Jim Dine. After touring the exhibits, the children were ready to create their own sculptures.
Activities ranged from creating mobiles to creating three dimensional foam sculptures that could be decorated in bright colors. Children could participate in activities at ten different project centers. Out of cardboard, paper, foam and other art supplies, the children could try their hands at creating sculptures at centers entitled Chaotic Creations, Transformation Station, Foiled Again, and Piece by Piece. In one gallery, a balloon sculptor created balloon animals as children watched with fascination. Children could also play with tubers and zots, multi-colored, bendable foam shapes that fit together to create artwork that can be easily built upon or dismantled. If all the activities got to be too much, a child could spend a few minutes reading in the reading corner.
Children who registered could also participate in two other activities, Plastered and the Human Sculpture. In Plastered, a child made a plaster mold in the shape of his hand. When the plaster dried, the child got to take home a plaster sculpture of his hand. Children participated in the Human Sculpture as well. During this interactive activity, the children were told to perform certain tasks, such as to pretend to be walking on hot coals or through peanut butter. The children soon were comfortable with the exercise and began making sound effects to match their motions. The group leader would then call out “freeze”, and the children would have to hold their poses. The activity allowed the children to examine the movement and forms their own bodies could make.
Nearly a decade ago, Barbara Robertson of WCMA began Family Day. This year, Jacobs and Rettig, for their winter study independent project, worked at the museum planning the event. The two spent an average of five hours a day, five days a week at the museum. During the last two weeks of winter study, Jacobs and Rettig invited children to the museum, so that the children could try out the art projects. “It was difficult to pick out projects because the supplies had to be cheap, the projects had to be done on a large scale, and the kids had to be able to do the projects with little instruction. When we had kids trying out the projects, we found that some projects just didn’t work well. We had to throw out projects and try new ones. I was surprised that some of our experimental projects didn’t work, but I was also surprised how well some of the others turned out,” Jacobs explained.
With nearly 1000 attendees, Family Day was definitely a success. Such an exchange between the arts community on campus and the youth of Williamstown was an invaluable event. That from an early age, children learn to appreciate art is of utmost importance.