TC, MoMA and The Art Barge Series Followed the Path of Victor D’Amico ☆

The “Art as a Human Necessity” event series, hosted in June 2011 in three meaningful locations, celebrated the life and work of art education legend and TC alumnus and instructor Victor D’Amico (1904-1987).  D’Amico, who believed that art education for children should be based on making art and that people could learn a way of living through art, had a long and storied career creating and teaching art workshops and shaping the world of art education through such institutions as Teachers College, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Art Barge studio art school, and a series of international events called The Children’s Art Carnival.

The event series, conceived and directed by Professor Chimako Maeda, TC Art and Art Education visiting research scholar, brought together 150+ scholars, art educators, students, members of the public, museum curators and artists to explore D’Amico’s legacy and its power to shape the future.

Maeda, who is visiting from Nagoya University of Arts in Nagoya, Japan, was also a TC visiting scholar in the early 90’s.  In 1992, she uncovered a cache of D’Amico’s papers in the Milbank Memorial (now Gottesman) Library, and was “astonished” at the breadth of materials.  Maeda’s passion for sharing this unknown body of D’Amico’s work with the larger community was ignited.  She conserved the body of work (including photos, drawings, notebooks), and held a D’Amico exhibition at the National Children’s Castle in Tokyo in 1995. The show included reproductions of motivational art teaching toys designed by D’Amico in the 1970’s for The Children’s Art Caravan (which ultimately never launched, owing to financial concerns).  Maeda explains that TC recently gave D’Amico’s body of work to MoMA, and that TC maintains a collection of his digital archives.   Her wish to produce a series of events, connecting places vital to D’Amico’s vision, became a reality in June 2011 with the help and collaboration of Christopher Kohan, President of The Art Barge (D’Amico’s studio art school in Amagansett), Wendy Woon, the Deputy Director of MoMA’s Education Department (a role D’Amico held for 32 years), and Judith Burton, Professor and Director of Art and Art Education, Teachers College.  Maeda expresses deep gratitude to them all for their contribution to the realization of “Art as a Human Necessity”.

Why was it important to hold these sessions in the places, and in some instances, in the exact rooms that D’Amico taught and worked?  Maeda explains it in terms of vectors, “Horizontal is time.  Vertical is space.  The third vector is actual place and time.  It is very important for people to go to Victor’s actual spaces for direct experience to rouse creativity and imagination.  For participants and presenters, that was my actual purpose:  to take the personal journey and to walk along Victor’s path.”

Each of the three sessions raised current issues in the field of Art Education: the role of schools and museums, technology and art, academic education and art.  Maeda is delighted with the response that the sessions received.  She recalls two participants who were so inspired by what they learned that they will be taking on D’Amico-inspired projects of their own:  one is planning an artists’ summer camp, and the other has a goal exporting the concept of The Children’s Art Carnival around the world.

Why does D’Amico’s vision and his assertion that “arts are a humanizing force” have such a tremendous following?  Maeda attributes his tangible passion for art, respect for nature, consideration of past, present, and future, plus his democratic bent—he developed programs “for toddlers to seniors, to amateur to professionals, for everyone”—to the power of D’Amico’s teachings.

Maeda is currently working on producing a series of videos and essays capturing the “Art as a Human Necessity” sessions, which will be available on online.  She plans on taking her TC experience back to Nagoya University of Arts, where she will instruct students in Museum Education—a burgeoning course of study in her native Japan.  An artist herself, Maeda praises the creativity and innovation of D’Amico.  She offers a thought from Christopher Kohan, who explained that while Victor didn’t create artwork, he surely created art teachers and artists.