Material Lab, MoMA’s popular interactive space for families, recently closed after a year-and-a-half run with over 72,000 visitors. Material Lab was staffed by fantastic facilitators and a rotating roster of 65 dedicated volunteers. After talking to them about their experiences greeting visitors to the lab, it occurred to us that they had some really wonderful stories to share—and we would like to share some of them with you.
One Saturday morning I was introduced to a child who was adopted as a toddler and didn’t learn to speak until he was about four or five years old. He flourished in the environment that the Material Lab created, and I spoke to his parents about how much he enjoyed the space and how he wanted to return again and again. Experiencing how people used the space to communicate techniques, share ideas, and, most of all, connect was the thing that I loved most.
The Material Lab was a great place for children, regardless of language, to interact. You would often see children from all over the world—sitting together making projects—who couldn’t speak each other’s language but found a way to communicate through the process of making art. I referred to the material lab as the “international baby lounge.”
Mary Lou Margel
A little girl, about six years old, showed me the dog she made from paper, cardboard, straws, and tape. She told me about the problems with his tongue, which she fixed. He still did not have a name and her mom suggested she think about the artists she saw at the Museum. “I’m going to call him Jackson Pollock!” We all thought that was a great name for the brown-and-white mixed breed with the bright red tongue.
I worked as a volunteer at the Material Lab only once, and found it fascinating to see how young and old enjoyed the drawing monitors. I was amazed at the attention span of a three-year-old when he sat in front of the screen and kept creating picture after picture for over an hour.
The artist Skye Ferrante came to the lab with his young daughter. She began exploring the Discovery Boxes, in particular the “metal” box containing three long pieces of wire. Shannon, the facilitator, and I were sitting at the desk. Skye came up to us and asked Shannon to “sit still for a little bit.” After a few minutes, he presented her with a remarkable silhouette likeness made with one of the wire pieces. (When I went home, I discovered that one of his more famous pieces is the skyline of Manhattan constructed with one continuous piece of wire.) What an unexpected thrill we had that day!
As a Material Lab greeter I watched as the space was introduced—an adult’s eyes focused on the facilitator and a child’s eyes followed the outline of the room. But when they existed, all eyes admired the youngster’s completed art project.
It was wonderful to see parents get just as involved as their children. Plus, it was obvious very quickly that language was not a barrier to understanding what could be done in Material Lab. I learned many different ways to cut paper because we did not give the kids scissors. And then I was so impressed by how creative they were in figuring out ways to tear, fold and build things with just paper and tape.
Thanks to all the volunteers who helped make Material Lab a success. Our next lab, MoMA Art Lab: People opens October 10, 2012.