My Kids Grew Up Hating Art... And This Is What I Did About It

I thought that because I love art, my kids would automatically love art too. I imagined my children would be cultured and we would spend our weekends visiting walking through museums and galleries. I was wrong!

I like to visit cultural institutions as a place of inspiration, and I loved the idea of sharing that experience with my children, watching them grow to feel the same way I do. Museums are one of the few places where I can marvel at breathtaking monumental artworks, challenge myself with experimental conceptual pieces, and see the world through different eyes, as I consider why and how an artist made the choices they did. Now, hoping to share that feeling with my kids, I make a concerted effort to seek out quality art programs and art events around the city that we can experience together.

One year when they were young, as we got ready to go to a yearly family event for a local arts organization, I realized with dismay that my girls were not only not very enthusiastic about attending, they were actively complaining.

"What's wrong?" I asked, confused. "I thought you liked making art."

"But it's boring!" they complained.

And you know what? They were right. I thought about the activities they were asked to do year after year -- stringing plastic beads to make a keychain, or slapping some cheap paint on a tote bag emblazoned with the logo of some sponsor. I realized that it was much more about the sponsor than about engaging my kids. They were completely secondary.

Thinking back even farther, I thought about the throwaway cut-out snowmen, the coloring sheets, the uninspired finger-painting projects they did at school. No wonder they were disinterested in art.

This began to bother me. It was a deep unease and persistent concern, not just for my own children, but for their peers as well. If my kids, who had an art booster and enthusiast for a mom had this disregard for the arts, what was happening for kids across our nation? And, what was different about my upbringing?

As a young girl, I had a transformative experience that really paved the path towards the arts for me.

At the now-defunct Los Angeles Children's Museum, I was able to make a painting with the artist Chuck Arnoldi, who was a successful Los Angeles based artist. He wasn't just standing there, telling me to make something, he was actually creating a painting collaboratively with me. It didn't feel like a "kids" project at all.

One of his signature styles is a painting composed entirely of brightly colored sticks, arrayed in splayed abstract shapes. We made the painting together, and both signed it at the end. I was so incredibly proud of this work, I even used it on the cover of my Bat Mitzvah invitation. Not only that, I had experienced an unusual new creative technique, and got to actually interact with a respected professional artist, and question why he made the work he did.

That set me off on a lifelong love of art, and I knew that I wanted my kids to experience that same feeling -- of pride, curiosity, and the desire to seek new creative experiences.

Los Angeles is such an incredible treasure trove of artistic activity, and I knew I wanted to find a way to engage another generation of Los Angeles youth in everything artful and wonderful that was going on in our city. I had an idea for a "happening" where kids could engage with contemporary artists, like I had with Mr. Arnoldi, and make inspiring, critical artwork that would give them a window into new creative processes. I also wanted this special, intimate experience to be a fundraiser to support free family programming at art museums around the city Luckily, I found a willing partner in Annie Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum at UCLA, who was interested in growing her organization's family programs. Together we founded the annual Kids Art Museum Project (K.A.M.P. at the Hammer), and all the funds raised were directed to support their free family programming.

Over 7 years, we have engaged more than 100 artists to dream up creative workshops for children, and raised over $1,000,000. These workshops, which take place in the Hammer courtyard, have included wildly inventive projects such as "Urban Lava Factories" by Max Hooper Schneider, "Sand Mandalas" by Jennifer Guidi, and "Amazing Sock Creatures" by Catherine and Oliver Opie. My daughters have loved every event and project, and even as teenagers, they still look forward to it.

One day, one of my daughter's friends came over to roast marshmallows, and told me, "My favorite museum is the Hammer Museum." I knew she had been to K.A.M.P. a few times, and I was so gratified by those words. She was comfortable in an art environment, not intimidated, interested in experimenting, and curious about how the artists were thinking. That's exactly what I had hoped for.

But it's not enough. K.A.M.P. was always meant to be a fundraiser, and it requires a donation to attend. Hammer has other excellent free family programming, but even with all of their incredible options, its capacity is limited. The family programming at Los Angeles art museums combined is not enough to serve the next generation of children in the city (not to mention the country) who need exposure to creative skills, critical thinking, empathy, and the experience of innovating and inventing on a daily basis in order to solve the incredibly complex challenges the future holds for them. These are all capacities that the arts provide, and they can't just happen in museums alone. These experiences need to happen regularly all year long -- at school, and especially at home. Spending time together making and talking about art demonstrates for our children the value that we place on creativity.

My next chapter is to take on access to the arts as a broader mission, and I have good company. I believe that everyone, parents and kids together, teachers and their students, can participate in great art experiences together. All they need are the right projects that push their creativity, and the right materials to make it happen. Working with a team of arts educators and talented contemporary artists, I recently launched Markybox, a monthly membership box that sends members complete materials and instructions for a high-quality art project for two (parent/adult and child) each month. Our first box is hand-casting -- and believe me, a beautiful cast hand (a sculptural technique that has been used for centuries) is a far cry from a cut-out snowman. My daughter hasn't even done the project yet, and she's already Googling artists from Auguste Rodin to Robert Gober.

Now that is what I'm talking about.

The urgency of creativity is that as we get older we lose our willingness to be free. To think freely, create freely, and be free and empathetic with one another must be preserved in our children. To borrow a phrase from Lincoln, that is indeed the last, best hope of the world.

BROOKE KANTER

Learn more about Markybox at http://www.marky.com.

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