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New Contemporary Art Museum In Los Angeles Engages Kids With Audio Tours
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New Contemporary Art Museum In Los Angeles Engages Kids With Audio Tours

Arts & Life

New Contemporary Art Museum In Los Angeles Engages Kids With Audio Tours

New Contemporary Art Museum In Los Angeles Engages Kids With Audio Tours
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The Broad contemporary art museum opened in Los Angeles this weekend, and NPR explores how the museum's audio tour addresses the challenge of how talk to kids about contemporary art.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A major art collection in Los Angeles is now open to the public. The Broad Museum features postwar and contemporary art collected by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. The museum features work by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Look. It's a balloon dog.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: It looks like lollipops.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: It's so shiny.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: They took a regular day object and they made it bigger.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #5: It's like we're ants.

MCEVERS: That all-star list of artists got us wondering about how the museum will get people, especially small people, excited about the work behind the big names. So we went to the Broad just before it opened. We took an escalator up through what felt like a dark-gray tube. Then we emerged into galleries flooded with natural light. The first piece we saw was this massive sculpture by artist Jeff Koons - a big bunch of bright, shiny tulips that's 7-feet tall. Looking at it makes you feel like a kid in a wonderland. One way to learn more about this art is the museum's family audio tour - basically the kid's audio tour. You can download it to your phone. It's narrated by actor LeVar Burton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEVAR BURTON: Quickly, quickly, quickly...

MCEVERS: The tour pulls you from the main gallery where the Koons' tulips are to a side gallery where there is this massive table and chairs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BURTON: Get under the table or behind a chair. I think we've been somehow transported to the land of the Giants.

MCEVERS: The table and chairs is actually a sculpture by LA artist Robert Therrien. It's called "Under The Table."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BURTON: Roberts' work makes us look at normal, everyday objects in exciting ways. The familiar is now the fantastic, and this helps us to see and think about things in a new and different light. Doesn't being here make you feel small, tiny, miniscule, totally microscopic?

MCEVERS: Once you're under the table, LeVar Burton teaches you how the artist made this work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BURTON: One day with a camera in his hand, he crawled underneath his dining room table to have a close look at what was there. And at once, everything felt different.

MCEVERS: The audio tour is meant to engage kids with art that can often be hard to understand. Joanne Heyler, the museum's curator and director, says adults might want to listen to it too. She takes us under the table.

JOANNE HEYLER: So now I'm going to play reporter. How does it feel to you to be under this table?

MCEVERS: Humbling (laughter).

HEYLER: Yeah.

MCEVERS: I am granted a new perspective of the world. It makes me think about what it's like to be a small person who lives in the world and who spends a lot of time under tables.

HEYLER: Right, childhood.

MCEVERS: Well, if you're a kid, it'd be fun to get under this table, but then you'd probably want to like climb and touch. Like, how do you deal with that with a piece like this?

HEYLER: Right. Well, it is a sculpture at the end of the day, so it isn't really meant to be touched, certainly not climbed on. It's meant to be viewed and experienced in a visual sense.

MCEVERS: Heyler has her own kids, and of course, she brings them to the museum. But before they even get there, she explains it's better to talk about art than to touch it. That goes for all visitors.

What else have you been told people experience under here?

HEYLER: Well, most of the time, that sense of memory for adults, memories of their childhoods. Also, you know, I think the title "Under The Table" has a little bit of a transgressive element to it. When you're a child, when you're climbing under a table, you're being a bit transgressive, right? You're not doing what you're supposed to be doing.

MCEVERS: Heyler says for now, the Broad Museum doesn't have a separate in-house art education department beyond these audio tours. But the Broad is free, which Heyler says will encourage families to come. And next year, she says, the Broad will partner with a local nonprofit to bring kids to the museum, see what they like and how they react and then write a curriculum around that. Art educator Holly Crawford of the ESMoA art lab in El Segundo south of LA says that's great because kids know what kids like, and that usually is an experience, not just an audio tour. Don't let kids touch the art, she says, but let them move.

HOLLY CRAWFORD: That could be play activities in the gallery where you can imitate a sculpture, or maybe you try out a performance. Or maybe you just can draw or sketch something. It doesn't take a lot to engage a young person in a gallery.

MCEVERS: Crawford says the challenge for any museum is to get a diverse audience in the door, help them learn while they're there and keep them coming back. And, Crawford says, no matter who's doing the talking, talking to kids about art should always start with questions.

CRAWFORD: What are you seeing? What did you see that made you say that? What more can we find in this crazy room or, like, how do we make sense of all this?

MCEVERS: All good questions to ask kids, Crawford says, and adults too.

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