Rita Gold Center Exhibition: ‘Broken Things Can Be Beautiful Things’ ☆

The promotional poster for last Spring’s Rita Gold Center exhibition held in the Macy Gallery and curated by Marta Cabral.

The second Macy Gallery exhibition of the Spring 2014 semester, “Art Studio Feast: Broken Things Can Be Beautiful Things” was on display from February 24th – March 21st. Along gallery walls and atop low pedestals were displayed works created by students in the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center (RGC): different materials, recycled objects, and fragments of broken toys re-envisioned to make art. Marta Cabral, Doctoral Research Fellow at the Rita Gold Center, designed and curated the student exhibition to encourage the infants, toddlers and preschoolers to explore new materials.

“Every year I curate an exhibition of the RGC children’s work in TC’s Macy Gallery, which is an important event for us,” Marta explains. “A research component underlies all of this. . .  In my dissertation, specifically, I am exploring the process of putting the art exhibitions together collaboratively with the children and thinking about how that relates to our explorations and learning throughout the year.”

Although the many artworks shown in last Spring’s exhibition were created from re-purposed objects, working with fragmented or used materials is a frequent art project for Marta’s young artists: “I collect different kinds of materials myself and encourage families and staff to bring in recycled and used items that are no longer of use,” she describes. “As I organize and make those things available in the studio, the children find new uses for things that usually have very specific purposes. . . . As they get used to ‘looking at things as if they could be otherwise’ (a Maxine Greene concept), the children bring that practice back into their classrooms.”

In accordance with her intention to encourage collaboration, Marta held a group meeting with all the RCG toddlers and preschoolers to decide on the exhibition’s name. Proposing eloquent snippets taken from conversations with the children while helping them write their artist statements, several ideas were combined to create the final title: “Art Studio Feast – Broken Things Can Be Beautiful Things.”

“One of the most important things I do as a studio teacher is to step back and let children explore and discover on their own,” explains Marta in regards to her arts education methodology. “More than pre-established methods, I try to offer a studio space that is safe, interesting, and welcoming to the children and their ideas, along with my best attention, support and respect. . . . The materials I provide and the approach to artistic experiences as explorations of materials are important elements in my practice as a studio teacher.”

For the children Marta teaches – ages infant through preschool – perception of art is not about whether the final product is intended as fine art to be admired or as a practical piece of craftsmanship. Artistic experiences at this age are based around exploration of the materials and their inherent characteristics.

“Artistic exploration is often interwoven in childrens’ play,” Marta describes, “particularly in a setting like RGC in which play is regarded as a crucial component – and so, the children explore materials as part of their narratives, their play, and their way of interacting with the world.”

Yet the RGC children are given an opportunity that not many students their age have – frequent visits to other Macy Gallery exhibitions; sessions in TC’s sculpture and painting studios; even participation in projects in the Myers Media Art Studio.

“Since we often visit the Macy Gallery,” Marta continues, “many of the children are used to looking at and talking about art, and because of that, they may also have similar expectations about the ways other people may interact with the works they create.”

Exposure to these professional TC art spaces also helps prepare the RGC children for their own annual exhibition debuts: “Most children are excited to have their work up in the gallery and enjoy showing visitors around in guided tours,” Marta describes. “The children and I visit the Macy Gallery frequently, so when the time comes to have their own work exhibited, they’re oftentimes aware of what it may mean.”

A collaborator, curator and art instructor, Marta enables each student to select their own artwork for the annual gallery showing, then assists them in writing their artistic statements which will accompany each piece.

“Sometimes children choose work that they’ve created previously,” she concludes. “Other times they create new work, specifically for the exhibit – many times to show to their loved ones.”

The Spring RCG exhibition also served as a basis for Marta’s latest book Broken Things Can Be Beautiful Things: Early childhood education explorations in play and art. Marta’s book can be found here!

Contributed by Alyssa L. Foster, A&H Staff Writer