Getting Messy at the Museum


The Setting: A bright, welcoming room with a colorful mosaic mural lining the wall
The Players: Two adults sitting in child-sized chairs, a variety of hand-held dog puppets
The Audience: A receptive, enthusiastic crew of 4- and 5-year-old children

This scene doesn't describe most people's expectations of a morning at the art museum. The potential for disaster seems too high when allowing kid-friendly fun within the hallowed walls of a building that houses "Art." Nevertheless, art-centered education and fun are what you can expect during the Mississippi Museum of Art's "Look and Learn with Hoot" series.

Elizabeth Williams, MMA curator of education, says the series is the result of MMA's educational strategic plan. The goal is to make the art museum experience more kid- and family-friendly through a series of free, 45-minute educational sessions for pre-kindergarten- and kindergarten-aged children and their parents. Each Look-and-Learn session includes story time and a hands-on art activity.

Who is Hoot? "Hoot is an owl with exceptionally big eyes," Williams says. The museum has adopted Hoot as its educational mascot. The Hoot character first appeared in the museum's award-winning children's book, "The Four Dog Blues Band" (University Press of Mississippi/Mississippi Museum of Art, 2010, $15.95). While at the museum, parents are encouraged to look for Hoot. A picture of the owl means a learning opportunity is at hand. At this time, the museum's family corners and "closer-look galleries," where children can experience art on an age-appropriate level, are places designated by Hoot.

Each session in the Look and Learn series begins with a storybook reading in the MMA's education corner.

After the story, kids and parents move to the in-house art studio for the day's hands-on activity led by one of museum's teaching artists. The art activities are loosely related to the story, or a piece of artwork on display in the gallery. Williams described last month's art project as "an investigation of texture." The kids spent time working with textiles, matching pictures from the Curious George exhibit with an assortment of highly tactile fabrics and other materials.

The educational program is designed to appeal to all the senses and to build skills through a variety of engaging activities. MMA welcomes and encourages parents to get involved in the art activity in the studio––just remember to "dress for mess." Williams says the hands-on activities are the kids' favorites. "The messier, the better!" She says.

The next session in the Look and Learn with Hoot series is scheduled for Friday, June 15 at 10:30 a.m. This month's story is Curious George Flies a Kite. The series continues monthly through December 2012. For more information and upcoming dates, call the Mississippi Museum of Art at 601-960-1515 or visit http://www.msmuseumart.org.


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