The Education Department is passionate about engaging visitors with art and ideas, bringing people together and creating experiences in which the visitor becomes an active participant. Most recently, there has been an initiative to bring more participatory, hands-on, and creative experiences outside of classroom walls and closer to art in the galleries. For example, from May to September 2015, 16 “pop-up” art-making sessions took place right outside the exhibition Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Cans and Other Works: 1953–1967. Each of the afternoon sessions was two hours long and open to anyone who wanted to take part. Four educators were recruited to lead these sessions, each one submitting a proposal for the activity they planned to share with visitors and that aligned with Warhol’s artistic processes and techniques.
The sessions were very well attended, with most consisting of about 55 to 65 participants, and a couple reaching numbers in the 80s. Visitors stayed for a long time during with many joining us for the entire two hours. As one of the artist educators, Kerry Downey, remarked “There was a great range of ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and experiences with art-making making the workshop refreshing, fun, and engaging. I loved seeing an older woman and younger guy sharing stories while making work. I also enjoyed hearing one woman’s chicken noodle soup recipe and its relationship to family. Weaving in bits about Warhol here and there felt effortless.” It was great to see that the activity was something that everyone could successfully participate in, and the visitor-created artwork was really fun to look at. Visitors also enjoyed having their works posted to Tagboard, which allowed them to share their experience with others and feel a part of something; there was definitely a vibe of camaraderie and inspiration within the space during these sessions.
Throughout these sessions we collected e-mails from visitors to send a survey following their experience. We discovered that 71% had not participated in anything like this before at MoMA. For most participants the best part of the activity was interacting with staff. 97% of those who participated in the pop-up also visited the exhibition. And 94% felt that participating in the Warhol pop-up positively impacted their overall experience at the Museum. Visitors who participated expressed that “learning a bit about the process was very enlightening and helped me understand the artwork better” and “It made me look more deeply at other art & think about what went into creating it.”
Based on the feedback we have received from experiences like this, and other pop-ups such as for the Sigmar Polke and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec exhibitions, we are actively considering when, where, and how we can make more experiences like this happen. When most people think about visiting an art museum they think about walking around and viewing art, but we’re hoping that more visitors will also get an opportunity to slow down, participate, reflect, and look at works with fresh insights and curiosity.
Although the Warhol exhibition and the pop-up are no longer up, visitors to MoMA can still experience art in hands-on ways at the Design Interactions Studio, and for families there’s the newest Art Lab exploring art-making processes.
Have you ever had a participatory experience at an art museum or gallery? How does engaging with an idea or technique in a hands-on way impact your experience? What does physical interaction and dialogue offer to an experience that viewing alone cannot provide?