Commentary: New UK campaign launches to draw more families to the arts

David Brownlee for The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network blog, 4/8/13

In the late 1990s I was a single dad with a young daughter trying to find (inexpensive) things we could enjoy together at weekends. Cinema was wonderful. Museums tended to be very good, too. And performing arts? The best I can say is 'variable'. I had the sense [some staff] feared we might spoil their beautiful venue and make it less pristine for the 'proper' audience. But more often the issues were down to a lack of thought. No appropriate catering for a hungry child. No booster seats to allow a child to see the feet of the dancers at her first ballet. Our biggest gripe was that, even in a big city, we couldn't find anything appropriate on. So back to the cinema we went. More than a decade later, have things changed? Not according to the survey of over 2,000 families that has helped inform the plan for the Family Arts Campaign, which launches on April 15th with a conference in Birmingham. There has been some brilliant work done in recent years identifying good practice for family engagement, resulting in Arts Council England's Family Friendly Toolkit. [However,] our survey of arts organisations showed some were using it but most were not even aware of it. What shows are the hardest to get tickets for in the West End? High quality productions that appeal to a family audience. For the arts as a whole, I am confident we can substantially grow and broaden our audience base if we get our product and overall offer right. At the centre of this campaign is [a] Family Arts Festival. The first UK-wide festival will take place over the autumn half-terms (Oct 18 to Nov 3, 2013), building on the model and momentum of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival.


Theater makes a kid-friendly version beside its full production of The Tempest

Tony Farrell, Richmond [VA] Times-Dispatch, 3/10/13

It's got magic. And fairies. And monsters. And young lovers. It's got a really, really big storm. But this isn't your average Disney movie. This is Shakespeare's The Tempest. For one performance during the show's run, Jan Powell and her Richmond Shakespeare team [staged] a special 90-minute performance [with] the same cast, costumes, music and set as the play's grown-up staging -- but 30 minutes shorter. To adapt the play for children, Powell and [director James Alexander] Bond focused on identifying and showcasing characters and scenes full of energy, adventure and, above all, humor. They also trimmed lengthy speeches, cut more cerebral scenes and speeded up the pace of characters' dialogue. Powell notes that Shakespeare's plays have been adjusted by theater professionals down through the centuries -- and were often staged differently by the Bard himself. "It's very appropriate to the Shakespearean spirit to mold the play to make it as attractive and fun and moving for our audiences as possible," she says, "which is exactly what Shakespeare did with his audiences." But [doesn't] Elizabethan English still trip up kids? Powell thinks children warm to Shakespeare's vocabulary and syntax faster than adults because they're more easily absorbed by the story. She recommends first giving kids a three-minute synopsis (summaries are available online) to orient them. Then trust your children to absorb the language: "I think kids are biologically put together to pick up words through context. This is what they do all the time. This is their life."


Commentary: Should museums allow baby strollers?

Chloe Veltman, blog Lies Like Truth, 3/8/13

Although arts institutions would never go as far as to ban small children from attending exhibitions, a trip to the De Young Museum today with my friend Laetitia and her toddler, Gabriel, made me believe that some museums might as well put up a sign saying "no kids allowed." The main problem is that parents aren't permitted to take strollers into the galleries. So Gabriel walked around on his own, got under people's feet and excited the ire of several docents when he tried to eat Cheerios and climb under a barrier separating one of the art works from the hordes of visitors. When his mother tried to carry him around, Gabriel squirmed and moaned and eventually made such a racket that we had to take him out into Golden Gate Park and go for a walk. I don't really understand why strollers are forbidden. It's not like they take up much room. And with the low lights and masses of people visiting the museums, having a stroller makes it much easier for parents to enjoy the art works while keeping their kids safe.


FROM TC: This post elicited reader comments that expressed strong views for and against allowing very young children into museums. Here's a sampling:  

  • "No kids allowed" in art museums? Excellent idea!
  • What a selfish comment. Several schools have cut funding for the arts, and sometimes the only exposure they have is by parents taking them to museums and concerts.
  • Toddlers don't contemplate art, they squirm and eat cheerios...Children who can walk on their own and take the art in are most certainly welcome. Even a parent should get that.
  • The rationale behind the stroller policies is never to specifically exclude children from visiting museums but rather has to do with protecting the art. Typically, if there isn't space for strollers to safely move past artworks -- with plenty of room for crowds/people coming from other directions/etc. -- strollers aren't allowed.
  • When I first tried to bring my then 8-month-old daughter to the Getty Museum the experience was terrible for both of us. Bringing a stroller in would be a lifesaver, but indeed I could see that the galleries were too crowded. Perhaps a "papa matinee" or "mommy matinee", like they have in movie theaters would work. Once a month, an hour before regular opening. 

Commentary: Want to create family-friendly places? Get the kids at the table!

Sustainable Cities Collective website, 3/8/13

In 1989, [an] earthquake changed the face of downtown Santa Cruz [California], damaging dozens of buildings and hobbling the local retail scene. When the site was re-developed, a small public space, Abbott Square, was tucked away as a retail pass-through. The square never really became a real destination for downtown...but now, with the help of the adjacent Museum of Art and History, that may be about to change. While hundreds of citizens and stakeholders participated in [planning] meetings, it was a children's workshop organized in collaboration with one of the dads in the community, Greg Larson, that really showed off the museum's capacity for thinking outside the box. "The children's workshop was exciting because it speaks to two things," says Cynthia Nikitin of Project for Public Spaces. "First, it showed that it's not really far-fetched to think that kids can talk about public space and contribute really meaningfully to Placemaking. Kids have great imaginations, and they can look at an adult problem and think differently about what they want to do with it. Second, it highlighted the museum's role as a community institution, as a creative and networked place, and so clearly spoke to that vision that the staff is working toward." "I think that the main takeaway was that it really is possible to engage kids in productive ways, parallel to adults, in a creative design process," says Greg. "It's important for it to be multi-modal, experiential, reflective, artistic, tactile. If there's anything consistent to what the kids drew up, it was that the square and the art on the square needs to be engaging, or participatory...where they can touch it or interact with it, not simply observe it."

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."