Hands on museum for kids to get to grips with recycling

Czech Position

A new type of interactive museum for children stages its first exhibition with the onus on kids contributing to the show

Don’t touch! No running! Be quiet! Museums in general are just not kid friendly – there are simply too many rules.

Plus what kid wants to look at paintings of old people dressed in funny clothes? Enter Art Gallery for Children (Galerie umení pro deti), now open right off Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí), and the brainchild of project coordinator Katerina Samková.

“I’m the mom of two, we can say, wild boys and I love art,” Ms. Samková told Czech Position. “I tried to take my children to a classic gallery, but it was just too stressful.” Seeing a lack of place for kids to be creative, Ms. Samková spearheaded the project, bringing Prague 1 district council on board along with sponsors and donors. “Here, children are not only the most important visitors, but also ‘partners’ and ‘artists’, actually co-creators of the exhibits,” she added.

The gallery’s first exhibition is entitled “Art of Recycling.” Working with waste materials, the exhibition aims to show kids that even what is intended for the rubbish bin can serve as inspiration or interesting material for art work. While of course everything the kids are doing is fun, there is also an educational aspect to it: teaching children the importance of recycling as a regular part of their life and helping them break out of the current mass culture mindset. The gallery’s artistic director is Monika Burian Jourdan, who also owns Vernon Gallery and is director of the annual Tina B contemporary arts festival.

“These are real artists, and this is not a kid’s corner in a museum,” she told Czech Position. “Children become a partner of the artist and that is very exciting. Things people would normally throw away are here being used to create something new.”

Ms. Jourdan says she was inspired by last year’s Tina B festival, which focused on recycling, to create Art of Recycling. She emphases that the idea of the gallery is to make it as much like a “real” gallery as possible. “Each exhibition has an explanation of the work as well as a biography of the artists,” she said. “The opening is a little earlier though, at 4pm for the kids.”

Works in progress

The exhibited works have no definite or final shape. The contemporary artists chosen designed their installations so that the children can actively contribute to the work. A variety of materials are used and artistic techniques experienced so little visitors can develop ideas and their imaginations, as well as involve all their senses.

The gallery has three main rooms, plus the lobby. The first two installations you come upon are bright and colorful, and require a second glance to see they are made from throw away items. Shendra Stucki has designed a colorful tree from cables while Shalom Neuman’s Fusion Art uses toy parts, children’s shoes, sponges, detergent bottles and more to make cheerful face collages. Throughout the exhibition are picture posters detailing the journey of what happens when kids throw plastic, glass, paper or cardboard into the city’s yellow, green, blue or orange recycling bins.

Markéta Hlinovská’s Free Spaces is one of the installations in the first room. Here, children are invited to help “citizens” move into new spaces. Portrait frames, a bird’s nest and house outline are painted on the walls. Piles of old magazines and scissors encourage kids to create “people” to live in the spaces on the walls. Each of the exhibitions tells a story from the artist giving kids ideas of how to interact with the art.

Using their imagination in the forest is the crux of Linda Rihárová’s Forest of Secrets. Photos of nature – forests, trees, landscapes – are framed in glass and markers are left for children to add in their own animals or other creatures they see hidden in the pictures.

Flight to the forest

The coolest exhibit is saved for last, dominating the entire back room. Forest of Monarch Butterflies by Veronika Richterová is inspired by the annual migration of monarch butterflies to a forest in Mexico.

The middle of the room has pre-butterfly’ed trees – what look like discarded Christmas trees have been stuck on poles out of the reach of little hands and are already filled with butterflies made from the top half of plastic bottles. A large tarp painted with green trees hangs on two walls, further decorated with plastic bottle tops and waiting for more butterflies to be added. A table is set up for kids to make their own butterflies out of discarded plastic bottles, decorating them with paints, markers and stickers. Kids can then add their creations to the forest by screwing their butterfly into the bottle top.

While this first exhibition took a more educational angle, the gallery’s second will be more artistic with portraits as the main theme. Organizers hope the path to understanding and experiencing the art will encourage children in their own creative activities.

“Children today are passive and aren’t aware of art,” said Ms. Samková. “They are on the computer, in the cinema, all sitting no playing, no making things. Our idea is that they have to be a part of the art with the artists, and then they’ll start to think when doing different activities and get their own ideas.”