Remember when you were in elementary school and you brought home a piece of artwork from class? Remember how accomplished you felt when you saw that piece of art hanging on the refrigerator? The participants in last fall’s Kids@Katzen: The Photographic Life project can feel that sense of accomplishment and then some. Their works of art were installed as an exhibition at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center that opened January 28 and will run through February 28.
The museum’s Kids@Katzen program offers children a unique chance to engage with art. Four to six events are held each year based on the exhibits at the museum. A team of volunteers, coordinated by Ann Miller Lee, the museum’s visitor and operations specialist, assists with the events. The children are introduced to and taught about an exhibition and its artist, and then are led by the volunteers in their own art-making project inspired by the exhibition. “We are able to bring an artist in to speak directly and work directly with the kids in making a real project, and that’s what makes this program so unique,” says Samantha Marques-Mordkofsky, the museum’s senior administrative assistant, who is responsible for communications and art content for the Kids@Katzen events.
The exhibit features work that grew out of what the children learned about the photography of artists Wayne Barrar and Louise Rosskam from exhibit curators Beverly Brannan and Laura Katzman respectively. They were taught about photography styles and techniques, and then each child was given a disposable camera and asked to explore their neighborhood with this knowledge in mind. They were also taught how to document their work. The children returned with photographs of toys, houses, streets, and playgrounds from the unique perspective of a small child. “They are all so different,” says Lee. “If we were doing a paper project, they would turn out somewhat similar. But these photos are so much more unique. They are so indicative of the children and their world.”
Kids@Katzen: The Photographic Life is the first exhibition based on individual children’s works from a Kids@Katzen in the American University Museum event. The museum staff thought that photography was the perfect medium for the children’s artistic expression. “We wanted to create an exhibition that relates to younger folks, and the photography seemed to be the one,” says Lee. “We thought it would be interesting to get something from the outside, something from their own lives, because our exhibitions are based on artists and their lives. So to have that [learning about photography] go home with a child and have them bring their world to us, like our artists do, was fascinating.”
The photographs will be on display in the Kreeger Lobby, but the treatment doesn’t end at simply hanging their photographs. The children and their parents were the featured guest artists at the Artists Reception on January 28 at 6 p.m. “They are the stars; they’re the creators, so we celebrated them on that night,” says Marques-Mordkofsky. “This is the first time we’ve ever done that.”
Lee and the staff are extremely excited about this exhibition and hope there are future opportunities to showcase the work of the children in the Kids@Katzen program. “It is a rewarding experience for the museum and the participating artists and curators to be able to expose children to the arts and to have them take an active role in creating their own work,” says Lee.
The Kids@Katzen: The Photographic Life closes February 28, 2012 For more information on the exhibition, visit the American University Museum Website.