Today my family went to an art museum.
With my family, any destination can be interesting. But a destination where there are priceless, often breakable objects surrounding you at all times, in hallways and rooms that echo with just a whisper – those are arguably the most interesting. It’s not that a 4 year old and a 7 year old can’t appreciate art. They just can’t always appreciate it quietly. or calmly. or in any other manner deemed “appropriate” for visitors.
The older I get, the more I see that art is a part of everyday life, and the more I feel that people should live with art all around them. I think kids should grow up with that too. They don’t have to be walking art encyclopedias or become artists themselves. I just think it’s important to foster some appreciation in as many areas as possible, in the interests of becoming a well-balanced individual. With art specifically, I think it’s healthy and so interesting to see the world how other people see it. This is just as true when you’re a kid, when your own world is quickly changing and expanding. And there is so much art, of so many different kinds, that it easily rises to the challenge of accompanying your own life, however unique it may be.
With all of that in mind, I am glad to see my local art museum make an effort to be family friendly. And they do really make an effort. They recently added a sculpture garden on the grounds that includes several kid-friendly structures to play in and around. The Storytelling Hut, a winding tunnel-like structure, is a favorite of my younger siblings. Inside the museum, they have backpack scavenger hunts, a mini computer lab, a small library area, and a coloring station. The museum also has family days where kids can do crafts and activities as well as see current exhibits. However, the idea of “kid friendliness” in a museum isn’t always a given.
On our museum trip today, we viewed the current Egyptian exhibit. My four-year-old sister could care less, but my seven-year-old brother was very interested and spent his time looking for the “real mummies”. There were a few school groups taking tours at the time, and we were careful to stay out of their way as much as possible. They were making a notable amount of noise, due to the fact that most of the students were murmuring amongst themselves instead of listening to the guide. At one point we were near the group, and my brother commented on something we were looking at. I don’t remember what he said, because as soon as the words left his mouth one of the tour guides turned around and said pointedly, “I’m going to have to ask you to be quiet. There are tours going on right now.” In my mind, I said, “yeah, OURS” but instead I just walked away.
I would have understood the lady’s actions if he had been yelling, or running, or jumping up and down on a Persian rug, or spitting at other patrons, or any number of other things. But I don’t understand why his normal volume and tone of voice caused such an issue for her.
It’s times like these that make me feel like art museums aren’t on my side. I’ll admit I may be overreacting, but this is not the first or only time I have felt that our art museum is full of only snotty people. In fact, I feel that way almost every time I visit.
As a student, I have been called upon to visit the art museum to complete various assignments, usually sketches of actual works. Each time, the people assigned to security in that particular area paced back and forth warily, asking questions to be sure I was not taking flash photos or anything else equally terrible. None asked about my project. None offered more information about the piece I was looking at. None even smiled at me, though I did my best to appear cheerful and non-threatening (go ahead, try to imagine me as threatening). The sad truth of the matter is that I feel a bit like an intruder whenever I visit. The only truly personable staff members I have met are the ladies in charge of the gift shop, and who doesn’t love the gift shop?
What happened today makes me angry and sad. I understand that everyone in a museum needs to be concerned about the security of the priceless pieces housed there. I understand that art is better viewed in the proper environment, which usually means peace and quiet. I understand that some who walk through the museum aren’t always attentive or respectful, so it’s easy to generalize. I understand that in every situation, there are standards of professionalism and rules to be enforced. But at what cost? Can kids grow up loving art if they feel like it’s not for them? Will students have a hunger to learn if they feel like an inquisitive nature is something to be squashed when in a museum?
If you ask me, the most wonderful thing about an art museum is accessibility. I can walk in those doors and see art of all kinds, from all over the world, and from any time in history. An art museum is something that doesn’t belong to just one person. Rather, it belongs to everyone, for all to enjoy. I just wish “my” museum had staff who loved to share the wealth.