In Press Play we converse with people that work with NYXT’s content partners. We recently talked with Michelle Lopez, Director of Community Programs at Children’s Museum of the Arts. They are located in Lower Manhattan, and you can check out their video content at http://nyxt.nyc/cma
How did you start working with Children's Museum of the Arts?
As an Art Therapist, I entered the museum field with the goal of using creativity for the wellbeing of the community. Working in museums appealed to me because I get to work with artifacts from the human experience in the form of artworks. Museums are places that celebrate creativity, history and community. The opportunity at CMA was exciting because I was able to focus my work on my favorite audience—children! I enjoy working at a socially conscious institution that values arts education and makes space for all children.
As the Director of Community Programs, I work to bring free arts programming to the public and share arts education with underserved children and their families. We offer free arts classes to children with disabilities, programs for families in the foster care system, free visits for title 1 schools, mentorship programs for teens, free art-making workshops on Governors Island in the summer, and more.
How do your personal goals and passions merge with Children's Museum of the Arts's vision?
Museum education provides children the opportunity to generalize educational and social skills in a community space. I first became aware of the limited social opportunities for children with disabilities when I worked as instructor for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At that time, children with autism learned in clinical, isolated settings through an education model with behavior interventions. A new skill was not considered mastered until a child was able to generalize it across various settings and people. How can a child generalize social skills in isolated and controlled settings? Museums provide a community.
Working in museum education as a therapist is a dream job! At CMA, I get to support the important work of teaching artists with professional development and provide them with projects that bring art to children that are sometimes overlooked in settings designed for their typically developing peers. Museums are showcases for democratic values because they provide rich education, access to community, and learning across the lifespan. At CMA, I'm given the space for advocacy work.
What are some great artists that work with children that you would recommend?
CMA is unique from other children's museums in that it employs working artists as teachers. Every partner and visitor who experiences CMA will create art with Teaching Artists who have their own studio practices. Some of our most creative educators utilize adaptive design techniques to make participating in art more accessible to all students and can adapt to age and special needs of all children.
There are many artists featured in museums and galleries that I love who work with children! Right now, I'm following the work of artists and activist Joseph Cuillier, creator of the Black School Project, an experimental art school using socially engaged art and Black history to educate students of color and their allies; and creating public projects addressing community needs. It's a beautiful project.
Recently, CMA put on an exhibition called, In Practice: Works in Progress, where children were invited to contribute to evolving artworks in our galleries. I especially enjoyed how artist Lisa Marie Ludwig placed her studio desk in the gallery and made art with our visitors. It was so generous, and she shared how the experience had transformed her practice. I love geeking out on these encounters!
Other than Children's Museum of the Arts, what organizations here in NYC do you support?
As Director of Community Programs, I collaborate with many institutions. Everyone I know, knows I love New York's three library systems! They are hands-down the most creative and engaged institutions; always rethinking their collections and place as community hubs. Museum-field colleagues are also great collaborators. This summer, I was invited to co-facilitate a six day intensive for NYC teachers at the New York Botanical Gardens on the art of science using their entire giant exhibition, GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: VISIONS OF HAWAI‘I.
I take an active role in organizations seeking to support the quality of life for NYC's most vulnerable children. We partner with a cross sector of service organizations, such as Administration for Children's Services and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
What is next for Children's Museum of the Arts and how can people get involved?
This September, CMA will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a year-long initiative called Civic Kids: Make art. Make a difference. Civic Kids will include art-making events around the city, a series of exhibitions centered around the idea of civic engagement through art-making, and a digital challenge inviting the public to create art together each month that centers on themes including environmentalism, freedom, sustainability, leadership, and equity. We will be sharing details of the pop-up events, exhibitions, and digital call on our website and calendar this summer.
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