Columbus Museum of Art stresses interaction

A short trip away, museum offers chance for all visitors to connect with art

Connectors can range from games and puzzles to thought-provoking questions or videos.

“A connector is anything we put in the gallery other than the art,” explains Merilee Mostov, assistant director of education for visitor engagement who says staffers coined the word “connector” in response to the museum’s new mission statement.

“The goal is to create great experiences with great art for everyone,” says Mostov who says since the mid-90’s institutions across the country have been rethinking the whole concept of museums and their relationship to their visitors.

A study conducted by The Ohio State University for the CMA found that the majority of people who visit the museum aren’t really knowledgeable about art.

“We found that the No.1 reason people come to the museum is for social experiences,” Mostov says. “It’s families and grandparents, it’s college students. So we began to look at what we offer to social groups when they come.”

What makes the Columbus museum special is that connectors aren’t just in the children’s or family areas, but are scattered throughout the museum as well. In any gallery you’re likely to see a group of people gathered around a table playing a memory game, duplicating a famous work of art in a puzzle, turning twist-ties into sculptures or using everyday kitchen utensils to create a face.

“Almost everything in the museum can be considered family-friendly,” says Nancy Colvin, the CMA’s marketing and communications manager. “It just depends on each individual family and the experience they are looking to have.”

Mosaic exhibit offers connectors

A case in point is the current exhibit, “Marvelous Menagerie,” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of New York and will travel to the Louvre in Paris after an American tour. It will be in Columbus through Jan. 13.

At the center of the exhibit is an ancient Roman mosaic floor filled with colorful images of mules and tigers, fish and birds. It is 1700 years old and takes up an entire room.

Carole Genshaft, adjunct curator at the museum, says the mosaic was discovered in 1996 in Lod, Israel, when construction workers were widening a street when all of a sudden they hit something hard.

“In Israel when you start digging there is a chance you’re going to hit a civilization from long ago,” explains Genshaft. ”In Israel, which is the size of New Jersey, there are there are 30,000 reported archaeological sites.”

To create ‘connectors’ for the mosaic exhibit, the folks at the CMA have added an entire room filled with activities related to the exhibit.

“What impressed me was that the museum was making an effort to really connect to the viewer and involve them more than just looking at a piece of art,” says Joan Marcus, a local artist from Harrison Twp. who drove to Columbus to see the exhibit. “There were small mosaic pieces that you could pick up to create a mosaic and that’s what my husband and I did. Holding those mosaic pieces connected us to the craftsmen that created that art piece thousands of years ago.”

Marcus says another connection came from a video in the gallery that showed how conservators rescued the piece, and the process they went through to lift and transport it.

“All of those things give more than just a visual meaning to the art,” Marcus observes.

Genshaft says it’s all designed to get information across to the visitor in user-friendly ways.

LEGO exhibit now open

“Think Outside the Brick: The Creative Art of LEGO,” has just opened at the museum and will run through Jan. 27. The colorful exhibit demonstrates that creativity is for everyone. You’ll see Lego creations from experienced designers as well as those who’ve participated in a Lego community competition. Some examples? The OSU stadium and Ohio Statehouse made entirely of Legos.

The showcase of the Lego exhibit is a new work by Nathan Sawaya and Dean West titled “In Pieces.” Sawaya, based in New York, has become famous for his Lego creations and for this installation has collaborated with Canada-based Australian photographer Dean West.

The two artists have come up with digitally-enhanced photos that incorporate Lego sculptures. The gallery also displays the actual Lego creations that were photographed — clouds, flip-flops, a towel.

You can guess what the “connector” involves: a chance to make your own Lego creations.

Wonder Room, Family Gallery

Connectors abound on the museum’s lower level where young visitors are especially courted. The brightly painted Wonder Room encourages kids and their families to build a fort or design a mobile. The emphasis is on helping families interact and work together by building, experimenting, playing.

In the Family Gallery, located in an adjoining hallway, the current focus is on portraiture. The Making Faces exhibition includes photographs and paintings by well-known artists such as Diane Arbus and Roy Lichtenstein and lets visitors make their own faces in a photo booth or with drawings.

Responses to the question “Where do you wear a mask?” are on display. One person wrote: “When the truth will hurt.”

A pile of art reproduction masks are there for the taking. And visitors are invited to participate in a CMA Photo Hunt related to the exhibit.

The photo project, originally created in connection with a CMA show titled “The Radical Camera,” resulted in a display that the CMA folks believe is the first museum show in the U.S. based on the popular photo-sharing app Instagram.

More than 100 photographers submitted 900 photos; more than three dozen are now on view.

Sparking Imaginations reaches out to Alzheimer’s patients

Another example of the CMA’s attempt to use the power of art to stimulate creativity and engage the mind is “Sparking Imaginations,” a program for people diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or memory loss as well as their caregivers. It’s been found that creativity can be stimulated — even in the late stages of Alzheimer’s.

The idea is to give those living with the degenerative disease an expressive outlet and forum for dialogue. The monthly hour-long program is led by specially trained docents who engage participants in discussions that focus on a handful of works of art in the galleries. It’s a time for caregivers to take a break as they share memories or stories with their loved ones. The next sessions are slated for Tuesday, Nov. 27, and Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Creative problem-solving

Mostov says whether it’s a voting station, a text panel, a game or a comfortable chair, the connectors are there to help visitors of any age make a connection with the art.

It seems to be working. On the day we visited, 4-year-old Zoe Hays was enjoying herself immensely.

“It’s our first visit, and I’m slapping myself for not coming before this,” said her mother, Molly. “I bought a membership, and we’ll be back. This place is magical.”

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