I stopped by the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire last week to check out the current exhibit “Out of this World & Buoyant Beings” at Gallery 6 and ran into Tess Feltes who curates the art for this lovely art space. I thought about doing a blog post about the space and then thought it might be better to ask the expert.
Here’s what Tess wrote:
When asked to create a blog post about curating Gallery 6 of the Children’s Museum of NH, I got to thinking of key aspects of the job and how it has evolved over the ten years of my tenure.
- Most Importantly, Focus on Goals
Gallery 6 is unique in that it occupies a space in a museum that attracts a different audience than a traditional art museum or gallery. Each year thousands of visitors of all ages and backgrounds pass through our doors—not necessarily expecting to find high caliber art. However, the Gallery was designed to be in the “heart of the museum” on the ramp leading to the second floor making it in view of every visitor, rather than off in a separate room.
I operate on the assumption that this might be a visitor’s first introduction to professional artwork and as such, there is an obligation to focus on themes that will appeal to a broad audience as well as offer an educational component to an exhibit.
The ramp offers a venue that is conducive to a narrative approach, which can help “tell a story” especially when the exhibit has an educational theme and is accompanied by informational text.
The last goal is to stimulate curiosity, encourage creativity and foster an interest & appreciation for art. CMNH has a MUSE studio where visitors can try their hand at art activities often tied to the exhibit’s theme or visitors might be inspired to try their hand at a project on their own time.
- Have Empathy
Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” In designing a show, I need to have empathy for the CMNH target audience. I need to understand their thoughts, interests and challenges, and, most importantly, ask: “will museum visitors like it?” Often I will design an exhibit based on the themes of the on-going CMNH exhibits, activities and programming. For example, an exhibit might focus on flight, dinosaurs, music, science or everyday topics such as food, water or the environment.
Other exhibits might focus on themes of universal appeal—fantasy, animals, toys, or children’s book authors and illustrators, which have a timeless appeal and will resonate with visitors.
I have learned the importance in curating an exhibit to offer a variety of approaches, styles, and interpretations of the themes, in short, something for myriad different tastes!
- Encourage Curiosity and Exploration
Lastly I see a responsibility to open children to new ideas and ways of thinking about their world. A prime example is our March through May 2016 MOSAIC Project that focuses on raising awareness of our multicultural “neighborhood” by presenting examples of artwork, photographs, stories, objects, and activities from other cultures. Another example might be a recent exhibit, Driven to Abstraction, which gave visitors an appreciation for nonrepresentational art. Both kids and adults LOVED it, and many commented that it opened up a new way of looking and thinking about art.
- What is my favorite thing about being a curator?
I consider myself a life-long learner who has many interests, having worked as an educator, scientific illustrator, children’s book illustrator, amateur naturalist, and parent of three wonderful children. This job gives me a chance to use every skill in my toolbox—including catering!
Curating requires a passion for original works of art, an appreciation of artists, and a firm belief that art has the ability to touch people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. This job gives me an opportunity to work happily both in a team and independently… and it does take a certain amount of tenacity! I love scouting out new artists and getting to work directly with incredible works of art and having regular opportunities to share them with a wide range of audiences. There is tremendous variety and hands-on nature of the work. I love the fact that no two days are the same.
- Interested in exhibiting at The Children’s Museum of NH?
I am always looking for new and emerging artists to exhibit. We have 4 group shows a year, based on themes appealing to children. These are planned a year in advance with a prospectus sent out several months before the installation. Our summer exhibit will be Everything Under the SUN. This will focus on colorful and lively interpretations of activities that children and families can enjoy in the great outdoors. If interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author’s Note: If you haven’t been in to see this space, I suggest you check it out next time you’re in the area. It’s located in downtown Dover, NH. Gallery 6 is open during regular museum hours and there is no charge to view the exhibit. (Those wishing to visit the rest of the museum as well must pay regular admission.)