LivingArts: Who's Listening?


It’s summer camp season in my world right now.  About 75 kids from ages 5 to 12 fill all of the classroom spaces each day, spilling into exhibition spaces throughout the day and then heading back to their studios full of inspiration and noise.  In addition to that, we also have other camps visiting with their kids for tours and activities.  There is a lot of buzz and energy, and the gallery is quite different from the traditional notion of a site for quiet contemplation.

I used to worry a bit about the noise – I used to think that people would be unhappy to have their art-viewing experiences interrupted by our camp groups.  And sometimes they are.

But then I started paying more attention to the visitors that I saw hovering around the edges.  As I give a tour to a rowdy group of six-year-olds, I see an older couple in the corner smiling.  Or a single guest standing just within hearing distance from the group.  I realized that people are listening to the tour, even when they are not officially part of the group; and even more than that, the tours that we lead for kids are sometimes interesting to adults too.

The other thing I notice each year is that even the rowdiest groups are listening too.  Each summer our return-campers or other visitors who have come in summers past join me in looking at the one installation that never changes – the Bruegel Bosch Bus.  As I ask the kids about this piece, I start to hear stories that I know have come from tours I’ve led in previous years.  Something in our previous conversations have stuck with our young visitors, to be shared at a later date.

This is one of the really fun parts of talking to people about art – seeing what stays, what is reinterpreted and reframed, what comes out when one student tries to share ideas with another fellow student.  Ideas stick.  The power of art to communicate is pervasive.  What we share with others matters.

They are always listening, even when it doesn’t seem like it.