"Art makes us happy." Young children explore materials and ideas

It's up!

Working on this year's Rita Gold Center art exhibition was, as usual, a great joy and a great enterprise. Much is still in the works - namely for the big reception on March 6th - but the exhibition is now up and open to the public.

For now, here is my curatorial statement:

It’s Tuesday morning, and the Rita Gold Center (RGC) preschoolers are discussing the title for this year’s art exhibition. One of the suggestions comes from Zaria’s artist statement: “Art makes us happy.”

Paco is first to share his thoughts. ”I like ‘Art makes us happy' because sometimes you make art and then you look at it, and it really makes you happy,” he says.

Sofia approves too. "I think it's a really good idea," she says, "because I made a sparkly airplane flower and I have it on my cubby, and it makes me happy when I see it.”

As we decide on the name of our exhibition, the children and I think about all the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who exhibit their works here, as well as the pieces shown and what they mean in the context of our school year and our artistic explorations. Together, we choose what works to show, we develop their artist statements, and we prepare to welcome visitors with guided tours and a big party for the exhibition’s gallery reception.

All this is woven into our school lives, as children play and explore in the classrooms, the art studio, the gallery, the park, and many other spaces. At RGC, the art program is integrated with the curriculum, just like play, snacks, and nap time: with joy and seriousness, with space for each child to be themselves and have their voices and ideas heard, cherished, and respected.

After leaving us to start kindergarten, kids often come back to visit. It’s not unusual for us to make art dates when they can work with me in the studio. They work on their own, with other alumni, or with younger siblings and other RGC students. I’m thrilled to show their artworks in this exhibition as well.

I've written before about the different aspects of curating an exhibition like this. I want it to work first and foremost for the children and their families, but also for the broader community, as an art exhibition with its own identity and value as such. So the curatorial aspect of it is incredibly important to me, and I play around with ways and tools that may help me telling the stories I see in these children's daily explorations with materials, and the stories they tell with their artworks and their words. This year, I chose to use QR (Quick Response) codes and AR (Augmented Reality). These tools help me making the children’s voices ever more present, either showing images of the children at work or presenting artist statements that are intentionally performed and recorded by each child.

As important as any possible tool, team work makes this exhibition possible. Along with the RGC and the Macy Gallery teams, I was fortunate to rely on the precious help of my colleagues Sean Justice and Hannah Lokken, without whom my experience in putting together this exhibition would surely be much different and much poorer.

I don't know that art can make us happy, just like that, taken for granted. But witnessing the ways in which these children make sense of the world and explore it in our studio, certainly fills me with joy and wonder. Maybe that's what they mean when they say art makes them happy.  

Marta Cabral
February 23rd, 2015