By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
There’s a group of kids scattered on the floor at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale on a Friday afternoon. They’re moving around figurines and trees and cannons, and, to a casual observer, it just looks like kids playing around with toys.
But no, these are young artists, using the museum’s iPads to take close-up shots of the toys. The idea is to take inspiration from the exhibit hanging nearby from photographer David Levinthal, who used children’s toys to create lifelike scenes.
For many of these kids, laughing as they delete through blurry photos and search for their masterpiece, this is their first visit to a museum. It might also be their first time considering art as a career path.
That’s the idea behind Museum on the Move, a project the museum has begun to bring in sixth-graders from Broward schools, hoping that exposing them to the art world will open their eyes to what’s possible.
The idea came from Bonnie Clearwater, the museum’s director and chief curator, who had a similar project back when she was head of the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami. There, she had seen how students exposed to art could have dramatic responses.
“Seeing some of the kids stop in their tracks and see how different this art is from what they see on their iPhones all day, it’s really inspiring,” Clearwater says. “It raises their critical experience to see these images and try to understand the meaning of them.”
This year, about 3,000 kids from Broward schools will visit the museum during weekly field trips. They’ll tour the museum and take part in talks and hands-on projects. During one recent trip, students listened to London artist Samson Kambalu describe life in the African village where he was born and how he has used the things around him over time to inspire his work.
When Clearwater came to NSU’s museum, she sought out corporate sponsors to help underwrite the costs of bringing in Broward students. She found it right away from The Related Group, the Miami builder currently constructing projects including the Auberge Beach Residences & Spa and Icon Las Olas. Supporting the arts is fundamental to the company’s philosophy of improving the community around its projects, says Patricia Hanna, Related Group’s art director.
Perhaps contrary to popular opinion, Hanna says the kids in the program have a real appreciation for art, maybe because they’re exposed to it so much nowadays – from Instagram and street art. Bringing them to the museum may show them that it’s possible to find a career in art. “When I was a kid, there was this real stigma of the starving artist, and it’s easy to think there’s no way to make a living in art,” says Hanna, who has a budget in the millions to buy art for Related Group’s buildings. “Maybe this can expose them to the idea that there’s an industry around art.”
As docents led the sixth-graders through the museum’s exhibits, a group of museum officials and educators followed behind, including Broward public schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. He says field trips like this can help kids think more critically and expose them to ideas they might not get elsewhere. “Arts are fundamental to the human spirit and human condition,” Runcie says.
As he speaks, the final group of sixth-graders zooms in on their iPads to the toys below them. They move the devices around in quick movements, trying to duplicate the blurry motion Levinthal uses in his work.
And who knows? Maybe one of those shots will hang in a museum some day, the early work of an artist from Broward.
Supporting Museum on the Move
NSU Art Museum is looking for donors to join the Community Foundation of Broward, The Joseph & Winifred Amaturo Education Foundation, and The Related Group. They’re also in need of small sponsorships; for $200, a sponsor can pay for the cost of the bus used to bring sixth-graders to the museum. For more information, contact Bonnie Clearwater at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-262-0228.
Above photo: Bonnie Clearwater, NSU Art Museum’s director and chief curator