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Vol. LXII, No. 8
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
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Cowboys, Goddesses, Apples, and Wishes: Art Museum Announces Program for Families

Ellen Gilbert

Following up on the success of its fall program, the Princeton Art Museum has planned a nine-session, Saturday morning program for children ages 5 to 9 — and their families — beginning with “Where Is the Princess Going?” on March 1, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Marge D’Amico, coordinator of “Art for Families,” encourages people to sign up early for the sessions, which are $5 each, or free for Princeton University Art Museum members. Each session includes a gallery talk by a museum docent, followed by a studio session with art teacher Hope Van Cleaf, where children make their own projects related to that day’s theme. “Children learn by doing,” noted Caroline Harris, Curator of Education and Academic Programs at the Museum. “The combination of seeing a work of art — and making something in response — weaves an indelible impression on a child & and can be transformative.” Most of the fall classes were filled to capacity, with 15 children in each.

“It takes a village to put this on,” said Ms. D’Amico, describing the preparation that goes into a season that will include, in addition to the March 1 program, “Make A Wish & Tell Kuan Yin,” on March 8; “Very Important People. How Can you Tell?” on March 15; “Here Comes the Nigerian Bride,” on March 29; and “How About THEM APPLES & and Beyond,” on April 5. On April 12 the subject will be “A Fantastic Flower from Georgia’s Garden,” followed by “Bridge Over Untroubled Waters” on April 19. “Athena and Artemis: Power Goddesses” make their appearance on April 26, and the term concludes on May 3 with “Ride ‘Em Cowboy!” Each session makes good use of the museum’s art collection; a Monet bridge features in the April 19 program, and the museum’s distinguished American gallery portraits will be put to good use in the VIP program on March 15.

“It’s wonderful, it’s fun, it’s exciting, and the family experience is not something you find in most museums, where you usually drop the child off for a program,” commented Ms. D’Amico. Tsu-Chung Su, a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School whose son attended the program in the fall, concurs: “Your Art for Families program is so enlightening that even an adult like me can benefit a lot from it,” he recently wrote.

“Some families came for virtually the entire season, but there were newcomers each week,” said Ms. D’Amico of the fall program. “The group was a rainbow of colors and ethnicities: parents and children speaking Gaelic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French, and even some English.”

“Art for Families” is among several educational options available for young people at the art museum. Ms. D’Amico reports that “hundreds of groups of children,” from elementary school through school, have passed through the galleries with their teachers on tours that are booked months in advance. In addition to the tours and family program, which are both funded by the Museum Friends, a separate grant allows 40 third-graders from Trenton to visit the museum once a week for six weeks.

As part of their training, docents participating in the arts programs for children receive a copy of “Ten Lessons the Arts Teach,” by art educator Elliot Eisner. “The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution,” suggested Mr. Eisner. “The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. the limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.”

Tickets for “Art for Families” are available through the University’s Frist Campus Center Ticket Office, Monday to Friday, noon until 6 p.m., or in the Museum Shop the morning of each event. For more information call (609) 258-9220.

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