Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dear Art Museum or Gallery,

This is Blue.  

Don't let the mean face fool you, he's harmless.  He's 6, smart, creative and he's a lot of fun.  And, it would appear, he is enemy number one according to art museums and galleries.

Poor Blue did not choose to have an artist for a dad.  In his 6 years he's already been on more sculpture installations and art deliveries that most of you ever will.  As I said earlier, he has an official sketchbook now and readily admits to strangers that he is already an artist.  Currently he plans to be an "art teacher", to create his own putt putt course that charges $13 per person, and to become a "mad scientist" (followed by the "muh-ha-ha-ha" cartoon laugh).

I've taken Blue with me into museums and galleries through the years and he understands the rules.  It's like church except there's art.  You have to whisper, you touch nothing and you listen to instructions.  Like most kids his age, he's energetic.  Some days it's nuclear energy.  But he understands the rules on art trips and at this point I've touched way more off limits artwork than he has.  

This summer we've taken several art trips and hit up several museums and galleries in North and South Carolina.  I figure a little exposure to great art will do him good and it's probably not so bad for me either.  When we've walked through the quiet spaces though, I've noticed that we've been getting a little heat from the employees.  Not just the evil eye or the person following you around like you're going to stuff a Monet in your cargo shorts.  I'm talking about over zealous docents or "security" people feeling the need to give verbal warnings or scoldings to my son.  

Now, let me say that I understand that kids who do not belong to you are little terrors.  If I had a glass shop and a 6 year old boy came in alone, I'd probably get the tranquilizer gun.  I also know that these art staffers do not know that Blue has to recite the rules to me before we enter the building and that he's got way more art experience than they do.  What I do know is that he is a well behaved kid who is genuinely interested in art and who never leaves my side.  

So on two separate occasions, he has been "spoken to" in that frustrated, authoritative voice by representatives of the art facilities we were supporting.  The first one irritated me much more than it irritated him, but the second one almost made him cry.  

In the first incident he was doing absolutely nothing wrong.  He was looking at some famous stuff and after getting followed for two rooms the visibly nervous staffer felt the need to let us know that things should not be touched.  Duh.  Please refer to rule #2 above.  Blue looked at me and I responded, "Yes, we are aware."  For the rest of our visit we basically played "avoid the mean person".  

In the second incident Blue's crime was taking photos.  I've mentioned he loves taking photos and you saw some of those earlier.  In my opinion this is a great activity for him on the art trips.  He chooses what to photograph and when we look at the images later I get a sense of what his interests are.  He quietly (and without touching any art) took 3 photos in one section of the space and was promptly accosted by the less than polite employee who had been following him around.  Blue was scolded by the employee and it was demanded that he delete the photos on the spot.  Blue was speechless.  I was dumbfounded.  This was not a big name place, the work was nothing anyone has ever heard of before and there were no visible signs indicating that photographs were not permitted.  In fact, this person saw my kid taking photos in one section and literally followed him into the next section and waited for him to take more photos before having his little meltdown.  Did I mention that we saw no signs indicating that photos were not allowed?  G took the phone, deleted the images while the staffer acted completely exasperated by the whole thing.  We were gone in minutes.

How do you think Blue feels about art places now?  

How angry do you think I'm going to be when I ask him if he wants to go on the next art trip and he seems less excited?

Of course, these employees probably thought they were acting on the best interests of their employers.  And they probably were not following the correct procedures, probably jumped the gun a bit and may have just been having bad days.  But if they've done this to Blue, how many other times has it happened?  What about all the kids who do not have to recite the rules before they enter?  And what sort of mixed up message are kids getting from all this?  "Think differently, be creative, express yourself, support the arts....but sit down, shut up and for heaven's sake don't touch anything!"

In a time when funding for the arts is scarce, wouldn't you think it would be wise to try to make yourself more appealing to younger generations?  Wouldn't it be a good idea to create an environment where children would feel welcomed?  See, the other thing is, both of these art places have begged me for donations multiple times during the last year.  So one way of looking at this is that I payed for these people to push my child away from art.  That's annoying.

I'm not going to stop the art trips just yet.  But art places, you're on notice now.  Be nice to my kid.  You're going to beg him for money someday.  

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