This weekend, the Yale University Art Gallery opened its doors to families eager to partake in a host of art-centric activities.
The gallery’s annual Family Day, which was free and open to the public, included several art-making stations, tours catering to children ages 3-10 and stories inspired by the art of various regions, as well as options for adult visitors.
This year, organizers adopted a new spatial layout for the event, arranging individual activities in a way different from previous years in order to avoid congestion in any one area of the Gallery. In addition, drawing and design offerings were available for the first time in the YUAG’s American Art wing. Organizers interviewed said the recent changes in the program have allowed Family Day guests to engage with the Gallery as a unified whole instead of merely limiting their experiences to one or two isolated areas.
“One of the greatest successes this year was that we were able to produce materials for families to be able to engage throughout the entire museum,” Jessica Sack, the Jan & Frederick Mayer Senior Associate Curator of Public Education at the YUAG, said. “An activity might have been presented in one space but could be used in multiple spaces.”
Sack explained that the new layout allowed Family Day’s 1,112 visitors to move freely about the museum and thus avoid overcrowding that might hamper their ability to participate in the activities.
Interactive stories linking fables from around the world with objects in the YUAG’s collections were offered in the Asian, African and Indo-Pacific wings. Surrounded by Meiji-era woodblock prints and scores of African masks, YUAG educators and guides spun tales that highlighted Gallery pieces including a South Asian relief sculpture titled “Footprints of the Buddha” and a small grouping of okimono, palm-size Japanese figures carved from ivory, bones, or animal tusks. Clare Brody ’14, a research assistant at the Gallery, emphasized the storytellers’ ability to engage the children and compel them to respond to the artworks.
“I’ve seen the educators at work, and they’re really good at drawing kids out, getting distracted kids to come out with some bigger theme … it’s really fun to watch,” she said.
In the Modern & Contemporary Art wing, among works by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, families used felt and yarn kits to visualize concepts such as abstraction. Sack explained that by using the kits, younger children can understand visually material they may not comprehend verbally. The Gallery has arrived at the kit’s current version through a process of audience feedback and gradual refinement, Sack said, adding that last year was the first time the kits had been professionally designed and packaged in a bag that contained all the fabric components as well as an instruction sheet.
This year, the addition of a booklet allowed participants to use the kit anywhere in the museum, she said. The inclusion of the booklet, Sack explained, was intended to allow families to transform a guided experience into a self-guided experience.
The process that resulted in Family Day’s current model began in 2006, Sack said, noting that since then, the event has evolved due to constant tweaking, often in response to community feedback.
“Starting in 2006 … we began to explore ways of making Family Day something for the New Haven community, a way to bring families into the museum on a day dedicated to them to explore, to make, to talk about art and to meet one another in an environment with and inspired by art,” Sack said. “As the museum has expanded, so too has the idea of what it means to have families in the museum.”
Najwa Mayer, a Wurtele Gallery Teacher at the YUAG, highlighted the efficient way gallery space was harnessed during Sunday’s event. Following its most recent renovation in 2012, she said, the Gallery has been able to accommodate a greater variety of activities on Family Day. The spatial expansion, she said, has allowed organizers to tier activities by age group as well as place them in strategic locations.
Attendees hailed from all over the Eastern seaboard and the world, ranging from Yale faculty members to Elm City residents to a 5-year-old Brooklynite who Sack said told a guide that the YUAG event was “[his] favorite family day of [his] whole life.”
“My daughter called me and said, ‘You should know about this,” said Susan Hill, another participant. Hill attended the event with her granddaughter, 8-year-old Samantha, who said she was excited about “the activities for older kids,” such as one involving close observation of artwork.
Two sisters, 3-year-old Abby and 2-year-old Lily, commented on their favorite part of Family Day — the drawing activity in the museum’s American wing. Abby said she drew “a rectangle and some leaves,” while Lily explained that she drew “a circle and birdies.”
Mayer said she thinks Family Day encourages young people to start thinking about art early on in their lives.
“Encountering art and galleries very young helps break down barriers or misconceptions we might have about what this kind of space is like,” Mayer said. “This is all about encouraging students to look at and encounter art at a young age.”
The Yale University Art Gallery is located at 1111 Chapel St.