Art has traditionally lived with its back to children. In particular, museums and exhibition halls have always been, with few exceptions, hostile places for boys and girls. Places where they cannot move, touch or raise their voices, for example, or where works of art are placed at an unreachable height for their little bodies.
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Many spaces are limited to organizing traditional school visits or children’s activities, such as craft workshops or theatrical visits, which are usually also programmed in a strictly structured way that may not be adapted to the needs of the children’s audience. Because boys and girls move, speak loudly, touch, get angry or laugh out loud, they have tantrums. They have normal behaviors of their age that can be annoying for the staff or the rest of the public of the museums.
The curator and cultural manager Semíramis González is clear: “Art is not designed for children, that’s the way it is. We are forgetting a very important part of the population. The exhibitions have to be inclusive, and this covers of course children. A simple example: when children go to museums they do not see the works, they do not reach them. We have to change the perspective: gestures as simple as placing the paintings at their height, for example, will bring them closer to them and make the most inclusive exhibitions, but not only for boys and girls, but for example for a person in a wheelchair, “he explains.
Semiramis would be the curator of the “Spray Cocktail Party” exhibition, a selection of paintings by the children’s illustrator Olga de Dios, author of popular children’s stories The pink monster, The three-eyed frog or Leotolda. The exhibition is an example of how to approach a proposal with children in mind: the paintings are placed at their height, they are showy and colorful and the visit also includes a display in the dark, with flashlights that make fluorescent colors shine. For Olga, the key is to offer children quality content, but also attractive to adult audiences. “I really like that children feel welcome and that they enjoy the experience, but that this is also the case for adults. If a mother or father likes something, it is more likely that this will also carry over to the child” . Although curator and artist are clear about this approach child friendlyThis does not seem to be the case for the gallery staff, with several bad experiences of families who have come to visit them and have left unhappy with the treatment received.
That is precisely one of the keys to this issue: to change the focus of spaces, this has to reach all levels of staff. “It is of little use that we carry out concrete initiatives, such as workshops or guided tours, or how to hang the lowest tables, if we do not thoroughly rethink what we want the role of children to be in cultural institutions and transmit that new approach to all staff of museums “, explains María Acaso, an expert in art and education and director of the Reina Sofía education area.
He points out an example of an activity in his museum where the adult-centered vision is rejected and children are put at the center: “We have been organizing the Savia activity, with a playful approach, with actions in rooms and in the garden that recognize the needs and the intellectual capacity of children, who have it, “explains Acaso.
Felicitas Sisinni, an expert in education and cultural management with experience in different artistic spaces, agrees on the need to change focus: “For me the key is that the facilities are inclusive, that they can accommodate all kinds of people: people in wheelchairs , boys and girls, etc … We need a broad and inclusive vision, that spaces are universal, comfortable and friendly for everyone. Only then can we find a crossroads of people who share experiences “. His recommendation is the Young Art Room of the Community of Madrid, which organizes workshops for families with young children: “I recently took my two-year-old daughter and I loved it, because for an exhibition space it is very difficult to include such young children Starting with the fact that it is impossible for a child of that age not to touch things. That is why they, who do well-thought-out and well-focused activities, include materials that can be touched and total freedom of movement in the activity, “he says. Sisinni.
Another space openly child friendly, and that also makes a flag of it, is the Rede Museística de Lugo, which includes six museums. At the head of this network is Encarna Lago, a cultural manager and curator who also comes from the educational field. For her, the child perspective must be present from the beginning of a project. “Art education is essential for the development of girls and boys, especially after the pandemic. Any public institution has to be prepared for that, both in programming and in adapting the space. Sometimes it seems that girls and boys they are not people, art is presented to be alien to them “, criticizes Lago. In the network that she directs, they have carried out different initiatives that, according to her, should not be limited to creating activities ad hoc. “As opposed to not running or not touching other spaces, we try to be the museum of the YES: we tell boys and girls: enjoy, have fun, you are welcome here.”
One of the keys, for her, is to rethink the role of the institution: “The discourse of the museums has traditionally been a heteropatriarchal, colonialist and neoliberal monologue, where there is no room for other narratives. We give the children the option to join the discourse , to understand what happens there. And we do it with things as simple as using simple fonts on the posters, that are read well, or making clear sentences, avoiding subjunctives, because we know that most children do not have the ability to abstraction up to 14 years, “he explains.
As for the large spaces, many of them have had to suspend their children’s activities due to the coronavirus crisis, but their will is to resume them and make them more and more present. In the Prado Museum, for example, they have made an effort to recover “El Prado in summer”, a week-long urban camp that last year had to be suspended. “We have had to reduce capacity and duration, but we believe that it is essential to give children back that space of enjoyment. The Museum needs to see them in rooms and recover their voices and laughter,” explains Ana Moreno, General Coordinator of Education. For her, there are many reasons to bring art closer to the children’s public: “It is what allows us to know the world and to know ourselves, it helps us to imagine, to look, to be and to feel. It is essential to learn to look and do with children and girls, people with critical capacity. And it seems to me essential that these experiences be in a context of enjoyment, “he says.
Marta Prado, education technician at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, acknowledges that several of the usual activities were suspended, but are already reactivated. “We want all the boys and girls to feel comfortable and have a great time visiting the Museum, that’s why we have different proposals: participatory visits to the exhibitions and creative activities related to the exhibitions and the building,” he says. And he highlights that the museum received the “Family friendly” certification years ago: “They gave it to us because we have adapted services, changing diapers, everything is accessible … we even have audio guides for children that are very fun,” says Prado.
At the end of the day it is about moving towards a paradigm shift. And on this both María Acaso and Encarna Lago agree. This is how Perhaps explains it: “It would be necessary to make a change of perspective on how it is being programmed in cultural institutions, with childhood but also with other audiences: people with functional diversity, migrants, elderly people … What is being done It is an exclusive inclusion: specific programs are developed for these audiences, but when they arrive, the institution rejects them. For example, the child audience bothers. What the institution wants is an adult audience that does not shout, that does not run, that does not disturb And this must be changed: if we want a different childhood, critical, empowered, feminist… we cannot program only storytelling and craft workshops for children. We have to do something else. ”
For Lago, it is essential to achieve this: “We do not realize it, but the most vibrant institutions are those that have taken girls into account with a different perspective. Education is joy, it is affection, and that is the most revolutionary thing there is. through art you are giving children the ability to be critical, you are giving them another view of the world “; concludes.