Crystal Bridges refreshes family programs

story by Julie Bagley, photos provided by Crystal Bridges
jbagley@thecitywire.com

It’s been a little more than a year since Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville opened its doors and it is time to refresh programs designed for little ones and families.

An average of 11,000-13,000 visitors per-week walk through the exhibits at the museum leading to a refresh and revamp in the children’s area. It is called the Experience Art Studio and with a $1 million gift from the Jack and Melba Shewmaker family it underwent a makeover.

Shewmaker family members are long-time residents of Bentonville and supporters of education. Until his retirement in 1988, Jack Shewmaker, who passed away a year ago, served in several administrative positions with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., including president and chief operations officer, as well as vice chairman and chief financial officer.

‘HEALTHY AND FRESH’
The education studios at Crystal Bridges provide a "high-touch, low-tech" educational experiences for museum visitors of all ages, including interactive exhibits, art-making experiences, and opportunities for creative play and exploration. The Shewmaker family's gift helped replenish supplies in the studios. The area was re-opened the day after Thanksgiving.

“There was a physical need to refresh the materials. Surfaces get worn and we wanted to be healthy and fresh. We want to keep things engaging for children coming back time-after-time and we want to key into the public interest,” said Diane Carroll, media relations manager.

She said the museum also responded from visitors wanting more interactive art. More tables, chairs and benches have been added to the Experience Art Studio as well as more toys, games and puzzles.

“We still have the puppet theater with new puppets and new installations,” said Janelle Redlaczyk, public programs manager.

FAMILY USE
To become more interactive, the space now houses a large magnet wall where young artists can hang their newest work and a large white board for doodling at the hands of the next Picasso.

“It’s a changeable wall much like at a gallery and people can title their artwork and it will be changed out as the next group of people come in,” said Redlaczyk, “We found people enjoyed making art and they can all the time in the Experience Art Studio.”

She said the studio is used by all ages of children. During the first year of admission it was used heavily by families, noted the museum staff.

“I’ve been doing exhibition and families for a number of years,” said Janelle, “Even in building the museum we had a hands-on area and that was always popular that sort of morphed into what we have in the Experience Art Studio. It’s another way for people to learn about art.”

Crystal Bridges museum is catering to families with younger children who move throughout the exhibits as well.

TOTES AND PLAYDATES
General Mills, a supplier to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., sponsored Art Totes. It’s a bag packed with hands-on activities. Think of it as Mad-Libs with a museum and art focus. Children may fill-in the blanks to art and finish drawings of certain works of art they see on the walls. Guests can check-out an Art Tote from Guest Services in the main lobby.

“It is charming, “said Carroll, “It’s a 12-page guide that adults will get a kick-out of as well. The graphics really key together the museum. It is interactive.”

She said the new programs are an evolution of the museum. One program that’s been tested for a couple of months has been the preschool playdates. Carroll said they’ve responded to feedback and there will now be a set time for the preschool playdates.

Before, the playdates rotated on days and times and its home will now be the second Thursday of the month from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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On Jan. 16, there will also be a series of classes, once-a-week for three weeks for $30 for pre-schoolers ages 3 to 5.

Redlaczyk said there are more new programs slated for 2013.

“We’re happy when things are used and worn out,” said Redlaczyk, “We get such good family participation during these holiday breaks and seeing them doing things together. Our four volunteers are loving it.”

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