Material Lab Is a Happening Space

Material Lab at MoMA. Photo by Michael Nagle

As the Emily Fisher Landau Education Fellow, I work cross-departmentally to evaluate MoMA’s interpretive resources (labels, audio guides, etc.), exhibitions, programs, and new initiatives by interviewing, observing, and using other methods to help MoMA offer the best visitor experiences possible. Sometimes I joke that I live in the galleries. I have the most interesting job!

For several weeks this summer, I conducted a study of the interactive space, Material Lab. Seeing art through children’s eyes is pretty fantastic! I interviewed and observed visitors—a total of 71 visitor groups with 109 children—to learn more about their experiences in the space and to find out how it impacts the way they explore the Museum.

A visitor explores the boxes on the Material Lab wall. Photo by Michael Nagle

So, what did we discover?

Adults have a strong desire to share the MoMA experience with children and are interested in exposing them to more art and culture. They actively seek out such opportunities: the majority of visitors found out about the space by asking for suggestions of things to do with children while at the Museum.

Children and adults love spending time in Material Lab. Visitors spent an average of 36 minutes in the space. 80% of children spent time with the Microsoft Digital Painting Technology Preview program, attracted by the row of computers facing the Museum’s Sculpture Garden. Hands-on art-making activities captured children’s attention the longest—22 minutes for both the “Collage” and “Make a Structure” activities. Over half the children who made art in Material Lab chose to display it at MoMA rather than taking it home. One visitor pointed out that in Material Lab “art is no longer just a spectator sport but something they are participating in.”

Collage table in MoMA Material Lab. Photo by Michael Nagle

What did the adults do in the space?

They took a leisurely break from the busy galleries, had conversations with other caregivers, and took a lot of photographs of their children and the art they made. Adults seemed to enjoy the space as much as children, often exploring, learning, and making art on their own.

Light table in MoMA Material Lab. Photo by Martin Seck

96% of adult visitors were adamant that Material Lab had a positive impact on the way children (and they) explore MoMA. One visitor said, “It reinforces what we saw—in the galleries they see what artists have done and this gets them closer to thinking about the hand of the artist, what materials they work with, and how they work with materials, the way artists layer and shape things. This helps us to connect to the art after we’ve looked at it.” A father explained, “It gets [his daughter] excited about art. She wants to see art because she understands it through looking at it in her [own] way and making it.”

Digital painting in MoMA Material Lab. Photo by Martin Seck

One visitor exclaimed, “Some of the most exciting things at MoMA are happening in this space”—and I happen to agree! Have you visited Material Lab yet? Material Lab is open until August 31, so only a few more weeks.

What’s next?

Many visitors felt their experience visiting MoMA would be improved if there were more hands on activities in the galleries or if Material Lab was more closely connected to the art in the galleries—and that this is definitely something we will want to explore for visitors of ALL ages in the next few months.

Material Lab closes on August 31 so be sure to visit this great interactive space soon!

The next MoMA Art Lab, with a focus on people opens on October 10.