Guest post by Eric Asboe
My favorite pieces of art in my house were made by children — the volcano floor mat, the map of the United States with a Mason Dixon line to California, the drawing of a space shuttle with its top next to its base because the paper is too small to contain it. Some of my favorite and most meaningful art experiences have been with and through kids; no book has shaped me as much as my friend’s son who, while tschunk tschunk tschunking away at a typewriter, hitting only the space bar with no paper, was writing the world’s longest novel entitled Space. It is easy to say that children have not learned to say no to themselves, to self-censor the ideas they have or that they see down connections in their brains we have lost or that their ideas of perspective and coordination and correspondence are not as fixed as ours. Whatever the reason, we love the world children see and create because it is a world to which we think we no longer have access. The entrance to that world, however, may not be as far away as we believe it is.
Every first Saturday of the month, admission is free to the Walker Art Center with family oriented activities throughout the day. The activities not only make use of multiple areas of the museum, they are inspired by and derive from major exhibitions on view in the galleries. This month’s Free First Saturday, Some Assembly Required, was inspired by Abraham Cruzvillegas’s exhibition The Autoconstrucción Suites, which explores assemblage, local, found materials, and “self-construction,” utilizing “improvised building materials and techniques” when “materials become available and necessity dictates.” Artist Eric Syvertson guided children through making bird’s-eye views of their ideal landscapes, the maps of their ultimately functional worlds. Children were also invited to continue building and adding to the autoconstrucción begun by the Walker Teen Art Council. The changing, expanding structure juxtaposed the teens’ collages with children’s drawings and minimalist inspired tape paintings. In the most living of the autoconstruccións at the Walker, the structure became a new space of creation with the entrance of each child. The works they left behind continued to shape the space into which others entered and altered for their own needs.
As I observed both activities, it was clear that the children were there for more than just making. They wanted to see more, to experience the works that the Walker and the artists that lead the activities do a wonderful job of integrating into their programming. I overheard one boy ask to see “abstract sculptures” after finishing the dog park on his map. One girl asked me where she could find Franz Kline. The Walker is not just shaping young makers; it is fostering people who see art as integral to their lives, encouraging people of all ages to take the museum back into the world. I was not surprised to hear a little boy ask his father when they could visit the “painting museum” again.
I live blocks from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and less than a block from the route of their annual May Day parade. In an overflowing abundance of sunny celebration, community togetherness, and integrated arts, the 39th annual May Day parade gathered hundreds of makers, performers, children, teens, adults, older adults, musicians, puppeteers, dancers, bicyclists, hula hoopers, and tens of thousands of spectators to celebrate the coming of growing things and the gathering of so many different people. The narrative of the parade, as adapted from Bread and Puppet Theater, demonstrated what happens when we poison the earth and what can result if we nurture our natural resources. The narrative was illustrated by giant, multi-person puppets, individual masks, and elaborate costumes of animals, humans, plants, polluters, and planters, but no story can accurately portray the power of the parade. The beautiful, masterful masks, puppets, costumes, and actions of the paraders shaped powerful messages through overarching scenes, layers of movement, and stirring music. The music and sound of the parade in particular evoked palpable emotional responses; despite the cheers of thousands of people, the individual paraders and marching bands formed ominous, foreboding cacophonies, deathly silences, and joyous outpourings that echoed throughout the crowds responses.
The most noticeable change during the parade was the transformation of the normally quiet, relatively disparate neighborhood into a temporary community. Residents invited strangers to join them on porches. Visitors shared chairs and blankets to squeeze in more people. Local businesses did not just sponsor the parade they participated, donning costumes and dancing along the route. The barriers between the parade, the parade route, the spectators, the neighborhood, and the visitors disappeared in the up and down migration of people, bicyclists, musicians, dancers, basketballers, business owners, hawkers, activists, animals, and balloons before, during, and after the parade. By the time the tall bike flanked giant bicycle powered barbeque/drum circle/party bus/open flame/empty air tank gong/cage match skate ramp started the parade, everyone welcomed it as an integral and normalized part of the community that had left everyday life behind to embrace the worlds of art, spectacle, celebration, and togetherness.
Maybe I love children’s art because it too is so much a natural part of who children are. They do not switch from being children to being artists to make something; their making is part of the continuum of childhood, the uninterrupted nature of their lives. I know and experience that those boundaries are artificial, imposed by me upon a world that is full of art, wonder, and discovery beyond my compartmentalized imagination. I am thankful for watching children make and play and for the times I can lose myself in the beauty of a sunny afternoon with raucous paraders. On to a summer free from boundaries.
Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. As Art Director of Public Space One gallery and performance space in Iowa City, Iowa, Asboe helped shape its nationally engaged exhibitions and programming, including the microgranting meal SOUP and the award-winning Free @rt School. Asboe’s creative works prioritize process over product and explore the boundary between practice as improvement and practice as way of life. Forthcoming projects include ubuwebtopten.com. He currently lives and works in Minneapolis.