As an educator at MoMA, one of the projects I have the most fun with is the Family Art Workshops. Workshops are programs where a museum educator leads a group through both a gallery experience and a hands-on art-making activity in a studio. I look forward to planning these, because usually museum educators do a lot of independent lesson planning, but for the workshops we get to work in teams. I’ve always loved collaborative brainstorming, so working together on these projects exercises that part of my brain. This fall, I put my head together with fellow Family Programs Educators Shannon Murphy, Keonna Hendrick, and Lynn Seeney to plan a workshop called Dreamscapes.
Our challenge was to make René Magritte’s work approachable for the workshop’s target age of four- to six-year-olds and their accompanying adults. Each educator teaching the workshop over the course of several weeks would do things slightly differently, but our general plan was to take families into the Magritte exhibition to discover how he painted everyday objects and made them strange or transformed in a variety of ways. After looking at and discussing a few paintings, we would head down to the studio to make Magritte-inspired Surrealist collages with cut shapes and patterned papers.
Our supplies were ordered, and we were ready to go, but there was one hiccup in our plans. By the time we hit late November/early December when our workshops were set to take place, the exhibition galleries were so crowded with Magritte devotees that we couldn’t reasonably expect groups of 20 kids and adults to maneuver through the space or sit on the floor to focus on paintings together.
Time for Plan B.
Having a Plan B ready to go quickly and smoothly is the name of the game when you’re a museum educator, and we had a seasoned team of flexible educators contributing to this workshop. Luckily, we’re working at MoMA, where there is no shortage of great art, so we were able to shift our focus to some of the Surrealist works in the fifth-floor Painting and Sculpture Galleries. Thanks to the work of Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio de Chirico, and Salvador Dalí, we were able to get families to notice some of the main ideas—such as altering the way objects function, or compositional choices that create surreal spaces—that would help them collaborate on their own collage-style dreamscapes.
In the end, they may not have seen the Magritte paintings we’d originally intended to show, but the families who participated got to learn about transforming objects and settings to change a typical landscape into a mysterious dreamscape. And their collages would do any of the Surrealists proud, if you ask me.