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Akira Akira’s ‘Spillberg (black) No.3’

Linda Daniele

Not everyone can be a Sidney Nolan or Brett Whiteley but an innovative program is proving that we are never too young to engage with contemporary art.

Art Baby is a social program for parents and carers with babies, held monthly at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

While extensive research documents the benefits of early childhood exposure to both music and the arts, options for participating in art-related public activities for children under 2 or 3 years of age is very limited.

Kate McBride, co-ordinator of public programs at MCA, says the Art Baby program fills this niche. “We can experience and engage with art from all ages. Babies can engage with art from day dot,” she says.

The Art Baby program also provides a fantastic network for parents and carers, says Ms McBride. “Participants tell us that it’s such a treat for them to meet up with others parents and carers with babies, who might otherwise not be able to get out. The chance to see and hear about art in a relaxing, child-friendly environment is also a huge benefit.”

Designed for babies and toddlers up to the age of two, Art Baby caters for a small group of 15 parents and carers – with babies in tow – and regularly books out.

The program varies from month to month, with each event taking in as many of the current exhibitions as possible.

MCA staff lead the parents, carers and babies on a lively one hour guided tour, followed by refreshments in the MCA cafe.

“It’s quite wonderful to see the fleet of prams and strollers making their way around the galleries,” says Ms McBride.

The writer took her 16-month-old baby boy along to the MCA where Primavera, an annual exhibition for Australian artists ages 35 years of age, and one of the highlights of the MCA’s annual program, was currently showing.

The exhibition was spread over two levels; we took in works from seven artists. Emma White’s scattered collection of everyday, dismissed objects, all made out of coloured polymer clay proved a favourite.

Emma White’s ‘Artefact’

‘Artefact’, a delicately placed yellow pencil sharpener and shavings, just waiting to be cleaned up, was meticulously created and had both of us fooled with its realism and craftsmanship.

Akira Akira’s ‘Spillberg (black) No.3’

Akira Akira’s work ‘Spillberg (black) No.3’ manipulates black automotive paint into a gleaming lumpy accident that oozes out on the table. My little one was making “yum, yum” noises and I must admit, it did look good enough to eat.

Ms McBride says one of the most popular works with children in recent times was an interactive work that formed part of the Take your time: Olafur Eliasson exhibition, held over four months earlier this year.

Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The cubic structural evolution project’

Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The cubic structural evolution project’

Comprised of thousands of Lego pieces, Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The cubic structural evolution project’ (2004) invited viewers — or in this case, participants — to sit down and contribute to the constantly evolving work of collaborative art.

The work morphed into everything from city skylines to skulls, lonely landscapes and animals.

“We saw so many children building their own castles and spaceships. Many of the children, and even their parents, spent hours there,” Ms McBride recalls.

Parents and carers with slightly older children need not miss out. For pre-schoolers aged 18 months to four years, MCA also offers the Art Safari program.

Catering for curious minds, the Art Safari program also incorporates play-based learning approaches including music, storytelling, drama and art making.

MCA Education Booking Line: (02) 9245 2484

www.mca.com.au                  mail@mca.com.au

*This article was first published in Precinct magazine, Issue 10/2010.