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The Broad Invites the Children of L.A. to Explore Their Very Own Museum

The Broad museum's third-floor galleries with skylights and interior veil | Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro
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This is produced in partnership with The Broad, home to the 2,000 works of art in the Eli and Edythe Broad collection, which is among the most prominent holdings of postwar and contemporary art worldwide, and presents an active program of rotating temporary exhibitions and innovative audience engagement. 

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, riding up the long escalator through the curved ceiling to the top floor, The Broad galleries are bathed in the glow of winter light. Visitors are greeted by Jeff Koons’ balloon “Tulips” flanked by a Murakami’s massive canvas “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow.” Nearby hangs another colorful Murakami “Hustle’n’Punch by Kaikai and Kiki” with smiling flowers and expressive cute faces. Kids around the gallery respond to the burst of vibrant colors with enthusiastic smiles.

A little boy stands near a giant wall sculpture by El Anatsui from Ghana made from red liquor labels and grabs his mother’s hand pointing to the next gallery. “Look, mom! I found the blue doggie!!” he squeals. There in the next room Koons’

“Rabbit,” “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” “Buster Keaton,” and “Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train” are known to be a highlight with the younger Broad visitors. The little boy poses for a photo with his family in front of the towering “Balloon Dog,” Koons’ mirror-polished stainless steel rendering of a simple balloon dog.

In one of the galleries, another large sculpture make adults feel child-sized and children giggle. The massive scale of “Under the Table” by Robert Therrien evokes the feeling of everyday objects being huge to a child. This gallery continues to be one of the most popular places to take photos at the Broad.

Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988, porcelain, 42 x 70 1/2 x 32 1/2 in., © Jeff Koons |  Douglas M. Parker Studio, L.A
Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988, porcelain, 42 x 70 1/2 x 32 1/2 in., © Jeff Koons | Douglas M. Parker Studio, L.A
Installation of Robert Therrien's "Under the Table," 1994 in The Broad's third-floor galleries. | Photo: Elizabeth Daniels, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Installation of Robert Therrien's "Under the Table," 1994 in The Broad's third-floor galleries. | Elizabeth Daniels, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Many more of the permanent collection pieces currently on view offer elements attractive to the youngest museum-goers. Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled” shows a crown red with words ‘you are a very special person’. Anselm Kiefer’s “Deutschlands Geisteshelden” shows a room painted with extreme perspective depicting a German hunting lodge. Visitors of all ages can exit the veil of the honeycomb-shaped galleries descending through the floor in a cylindrical elevator with clear walls in a place where the architecture itself is part of their adventure.

Living in a major metropolitan city, the children of Los Angeles County are fortunate to have several world-class museums nearby. L.A. boasts one of the most vibrant and diverse art scenes in the world with museums exhibiting ancient to contemporary art from all over the globe. This is a place rich with culture, where visual and performing arts thrive.

So when Eli and Edith Broad announced the plans for their own museum, and knowing their history of commitment to innovation in education, Los Angeles teachers wondered what the education programming and access for Los Angeles students would be. Admission to The Broad is free and open to the public every day. Visitors have had to brave long waits for reservation and long lines on site, but all admission to the collection is free, and only a few special exhibits have charged an admission fee.

Children can get in for free, but how many have someone who will take them?

It turns out The Broad has become a popular destination for families. Parents have found even their kids who previously were not excited about family museum day ask to go to The Broad to check out Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room.” They imagine stepping inside the otherwordly kaleidoscopic space to take one of the photos they have seen so often on Instagram. They want to walk around the giant Jeff Koons sculptures and see their reflection in “Balloon Dog (Blue)” and “Tulips.”

826LA visits the Broad | Courtesy of 826LA
826LA visits the Broad | Courtesy of 826LA

Once a child enters a museum, either with their class or visiting with family and friends, the architecture, art collection, and educational resources influence the quality of their experience. Family days with hands-on art projects, performances, and opportunities to interact with artists and arts educators can bring the museum alive in a way to create lasting memories. These are the memories that the arts community hopes will foster careers in art, museums membership, art patronage, and a belief in the importance of art in every person’s life.Ed Patuto, Director of Audience Engagement for The Broad, explains the mission of the museum. “The vision for The Broad was to have as many people as possible engage with the art that is on view. And to engage with contemporary artists and the ideas and the influences behind their art,” shares Patuto. 

The Broad developed early on an approach to their engagement programs for children and families that did not focus on informational and didactic learning. “We wanted to in a sense try to spark creativity among the young people who come to the museum,” continues Patuto. “To teach them how to look deeply at an art work how to begin to identify the kinds of issues either formalistically, socially, politically, or historically that the artists are addressing.” The Broad aims to create opportunities for students to exercise their own creative ideas.

For their school programs The Broad collaborates with Dave Eggers’ 826LA organization, which works on literacy and writing skills. Their Art + Story works with students from 3rd to 8th grade. They match up the writing exercises with core curricular requirements.

“We choose artworks that are appropriate to that age level. We have the students that are active with 826LA though their programs come to the museum. We Beta test everything with their students first,” says Patuto. “With high school students, we ask them to write poems. We call it Art + Rhyme.”

This month as The Broad begins their third year of education programming, they continue to be conscious about how they walk students through the museum to get to a particular artwork, acknowledging that the collection also includes some mature subject matter. “Most of the kids with whom we are working are kids who come from communities around the museum,” says Patuto. “These are kids who see a lot of things in their daily life. We really do believe in the ability of art to help provide a context for kids to engage with those kinds of issues.”

826LA visits the Broad | Courtesy of 826LA
826LA visits the Broad | Courtesy of 826LA

The Broad’s school visit program is open to LAUSD teachers, as well as charter schools and private schools students. Their visitor services associates, trained in this program by 826LA, lead the visits and the writing exercises with the children. “In the galleries and we are asking them to look deeply at the artwork. We are asking them questions that help them focus on particular aspects of the art and the kinds of questions or problems the artist is addressing in the artwork. Then we ask them to write a story about it,” says Patuto.

The goal is to help the students to explore the themes being addressed in the artworks. “That could be Ghanian sculptor El Anatsui taking detris and making a beautiful kente cloth-like sculpture with it. Talking about recycling and reusing objects,” says Patuto. “Or looking at Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘I’m Sorry’ painting and thinking about a storyline that comes afterward and making their own comic by looking at that and think about why she is sorry.”

Joel Arquillos, the Executive Director of 826LA, works with his staff to recruit and train thousands of volunteers to provide over 9,000 students a year with one-to-one support with their writing in our centers in Echo Park, Mar Vista, and at Manual Arts High School along with 15 other LAUSD schools. The 826LA partnership with The Broad adds a new dimension to their programming.

“The partnership with The Broad has helped us reach even more students by providing them with our curriculum and approach to writing in a museum setting,” says Arquillos. “The Broad pays for buses to bring students from the far away corners of LA into the museum. For many of the students, it's the first time they've stepped inside a museum.” At The Broad, students are given a booklet with questions and prompts designed to inspire them to express their thoughts about the art they are seeing.

“We also train the docents and teachers at the museum to guide the students through the writing process,” explains Arquillos. “The field trip we've designed with The Broad helps break down barriers between an art museum and the community. By making the art accessible and letting students know there are no wrong answers when they write about how the art makes them feel or think, we are providing students with a safe and creative space to explore ideas.”

Yayoi Kusama, The Obliteration Room, 2002 to present | QAGOMA Photography. © Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama, The Obliteration Room, 2002 to present | QAGOMA Photography. © Yayoi Kusama

Arquillos can remember the first time he got to visit a museum as a young student. “Just having the chance to leave my class for a day and then experience something as impressive as a giant painting or sculpture changed me.”

“At 826LA, we believe all students have stories to tell and the more they get to experience and interact in spaces like The Broad, the more tools they gain for expressing their ideas,” he says. Arquillos has heard from many students who've attended these field trips that the experience transformed them. Many admit that they did not know people could have careers working in museums. By exposing their students to opportunities, they aim to help them think beyond traditional career models.

“I've also been very inspired by The Broad's commitment to hiring a diverse staff who come from the same communities as the students. When young people see folks who look like them working in places like The Broad, they'll be more likely to consider pursuing careers in the arts,” says Arquillos. “That was certainly true for me as a young man growing up in a Spanish-speaking household.”

Bob Bates, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Inner-City Arts (ICA), also feels thankful for his educational art center’s partnership with The Broad. ICA teachers have been able to visit with their students on a regular basis. “It is a beacon in the heart of the city, in the heart of our culture,” Bates says about The Broad. “It radiates the creativity that people put into it. It is an important landmark place, a remarkable achievement.”

“Museums are the housing for some of the best qualities of artistic achievement that we realize in our lives. When people visit that, especially children, they begin to see the possibilities,” says Bates. “If we can create a culture of kids that go on a regular basis to the museums, they will continue the rest of their lives.”

Bates believes that any museum that does not open their doors to students is living in the past. “The future of our entire culture is in the hands of the children,” he adds. “And the way we raise them and the way that unfolds is going to make a huge difference.”

Bates believes that beautifully designed spaces have an impact on his student’s experience and education. The Inner-City Arts campus designed by Michael Maltzan offers an urban oasis in the middle of downtown Los Angeles for all of the students who take classes and for the community who attend events there.

When the Inner-City Arts students take a trip to The Broad, they enter the expansive Diller Scofidio +Renfro building known for its veil and vault concept, with a honeycomb-like exterior. These two structures are physical expressions of the connection between contemporary architecture and fine art.

“When they walk into The Broad they have the sense of looking at how the space is arranged,” says Bates. “It is about transforming human lives through art in a unique space. The Broad follows in the tradition of all great museums in that they also become this expression of the manifestation of what is happening in the creative minds and hearts of people in our world. It is really powerful.”

“We should be putting everything that we have into these kids,” says Bates. “They are going to take this world to the next level. And if they have been trained and recognize that they have these possibilities, then the future can become very bright.”

Then back at Inner-City Arts, Bates feels their campus, with its open spaces and high-quality equipment, helps bring out their students’ potential and capabilities. “I know that for a lot of the students who come here, these experiences have a positive affect on helping them find their direction in life and their creative expression as they grow and develop.”

The art classes at Inner-City Arts have a hands-on focus. “For them to look at their own work and then go look at what adults do, like in a trip to The Broad, it completes the circle,” says Bates. “They can see, there are possibilities here to be creative and live this creative life.”

Patuto explains the importance of giving children access to a world-class museum. “For The Broad and for its mission, we are letting these kids know that this museum is their museum.” In addition to bringing them to the museum for these school visits The Broad has added something special to the work booklet where the students write in their art-inspired stories. Inside they have included coupons for a return visit to The Broad, with an bonus that they can skip the line to bring their families back. “And kids do it,” says Patuto. “Because sometimes their parents will say, “we really did not believe our child, that we could come here and skip this line’, and now they do.”

Walking around the galleries, visitors stop and pose to take selfies, photos of the art, and to pose with family and friends to capture images of their museum experience. Every day visitors post images on social media. The hashtag #thebroad has more than 240,000 posts. “Social media send out a message that experiencing art, experiencing museums is part of everyday life just like when you go other places that you want people to know about,” says Patuto. “There is a way that it popularizes it in a way that is beneficial to museums and to the field.”

Teaching my niece about body image. A post shared by lynn chen (@mslynnchen) on Dec 29, 2017 at 9:43pm PST

A post shared by lynn chen (@mslynnchen) on

“The arts in general now have clearly been challenged,” continues Patuto. “How do we develop new audiences among younger people? If we are smart, as a field in museums and all of us in the arts, we will figure out ways of leveraging the fact that people are using social media to publicize museums, to publicize contemporary art, and to continue to deepen our relationships with those audiences.”

When asked how much interacting with art at a young age influences the future, Patuto responds, “That is our hope. That is why we do this.” Museums institutions have done studies about the determining factors that get people to become involved as patrons and as visitors to museums when they are adults. “The number one factor is that someone took them to a museum when they young. So we are investing in the future.”

Ella, one with Ellsworth Kelly at the Broad. #ellsworthkelly #thebroad #art #lovemydaughter A post shared by Nicole Policicchio (@succulentsuccotash) on Jan 11, 2018 at 2:45pm PST

In addition to their school programming, The Broad offers Family Weekend Workshops four times a year. Kids get a chance to make something inspired by a piece of artwork in the collection. After seeing the artwork in the galleries, families are invited to the second floor to the room by the oculus-shaped window facing Grand Avenue.

There, tables are set up with projects created especially for the topic of the day. For one workshop the participants made jewelry and accessories, from things people throw away, inspired by El Anatsui. Another offered the opportunity to have their picture taken and transform to the style of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring or Roy Lichtenstein.

The Broad also offers an app for a family audio tour for visiting with young children called “Looking with LeVar” narrated by LeVar Burton, known for his many years on PBS’s Reading Rainbow.

Special exhibitions at The Broad have also kept their younger visitors in mind. The first special ticketed exhibition of photography Cindy Sherman contained some imagery that parents may have considered to be suited for older children.

The “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” was a sold out blockbuster event that captured the imagination of the people of all ages fortunate enough to be able to see it. Some school groups were invited to join in the excitement of stepping inside the Infinity Rooms, viewing her colorful paintings, and to sticking colorful dots stickers all over the Obliteration Room.

On February 10, the next special exhibit Jasper Johns “Something Resembling Truth” opens. Students will have the opportunity to experience this American master’s pop minimalist paintings, sculpture, prints and drawings spanning more than six decades of this American master’s work. The shapes and color in Johns’ maps, target, flags and numbers will be a source of inspiration for all of the children who see the exhibit. How many future painters, inventors and engineers, and designers will one day cite this exhibit as the moment that sparked the path to finding their life’s work?

“There is an old saying, I share with my students: everyone looks, but an artist sees,” says arts educator Larry Garf. “If you can get your children to see instead of simply look, you have really accomplished something.”

With this education programming and access to the museum, The Broad contributes to developing the next generation of artists and audience for contemporary art.

Museum free days are great opportunities to expose children to arts and culture. Southern California museums regularly host free days. Here's a year-round list. January 28 is also a free museum day throughout the region. Find a list of participating museums here.

Top Image: ​The Broad's third-floor galleries. | Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

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