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Tips for Telling In Art Museums
By: Yvonne Healy

A wonderful institution, The Detroit Institute of Art, offers storytelling weekly. Frequently I am invited to perform there. Occasionally other museums also invite my performances. Sessions are sometimes general & other times I received commissions to research and create programs to support special exhibits. Following are some general ideas to bear in mind for museum telling:

- Prepare 2-3 times as many stories as needed.

- Include simple participatory tales as well as complicated plots & history because audiences vary greatly. Audiences may include from active itty-bittys through oh-so-serious art students to world-traveled senior citizens.

- Use stories to promote a scavenger hunt for things found in stories that are also found in paintings/sculptures after stories end. This promotes prolonged observation. Things sought can be non-representational (e.g., "blue that has yellow in it", or "squiggly lines that look like numbers") as well as representational (e.g., animals, clothing, person kicking another
person in the rear).

- Remind children to touch with their eyes, not with their hands.

- Work historical background into culturally appropriate folktales to provide depth without lecturing.

- Avoid standing in front of nudes. Few stories are more interesting than snickering at nudes to certain 8-14 year-olds.

- Corollary: no matter how small & distant, nudes will be discovered by ages 8-14.
- Example: NYC Museum of Natural History has a hallway where bronze nudes statues are completely browned with the patina of age. Completely darkened, that is, save for the nipples which gleam gold from the polish of repeated touches by passing school groups.

Some ideas for programs to match special exhibits include:

- "Tales of the Lowlands" coordinated folktales and legends of the Netherlands and Belgium with a Rembrandt exhibit;

- "Ballet and Beyond" celebrated an exhibit of Degas’ dancers with stories from classic ballets and participatory folktales with dance as a theme; and

- "Ancient Voices" used Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek & Roman myths to highlight classical art and sculpture.

The most important thing to remember is that the storyteller acts as a voice for the artwork. Many children on field trips have never before visited an art museum. They may feel like fish out of water. Storytelling provides a bridge to the exhibit content and can color the child’s approach to art museums both that day and in the future.

Author Information:
Name: Yvonne Healy
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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