Promoting Art Among the Young

Building on its successful school education programs and tours, Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art, a member of Qatar Foundation, decided to take it one step further this year by offering an Education Summer Program for young people aged 4 to 12 years.
Billed as a “thrilling creative experience for young minds”, the week-long in-depth program aims to get them to explore the museum, learn new stories and create their own original stories, artworks and art performances using different materials, concepts and methods.

According to Iman Soufan, Education Co-ordinator, Mathaf, it forms part of their broader objective to get more people to engage with the museum and its exhibitions.

“We put together the program by deciding what we should do on every day of the week,” she said.

“Children are aware enough about art; the challenge is to guide them through the exhibition and make it come to life. The activities are interlinked as they build on each other, so it was important to figure out the right thought process to guide the course.”

Asmaa Hatem, School Programs Facilitator, Mathaf, explained that they designed the program around the current exhibition, ‘Wael Shawky: Crusades and Other Stories’, as it is all about storytelling.

She said: “Some of the videos that form part of the installation are quite long, and if you just come for a quick visit, you can’t really take them in. But with this program we have a whole week to make the children experience as much as possible.”

According to her the participants need to be at all the sessions to get the most out of it. “We divided our program into three sections, so every day we do storytelling, exploring artworks in the museum and then art-making.

“It is all connected and related to each other. As this specific exhibition has many puppets, we stuck to the art of storytelling with them; how to explain the characters and make them come alive.”

By investigating similar programs elsewhere in the world, and combining it with their experiences at Mathaf, the team better understood how to keep the children focused, how long the classes should be, and how often breaks are needed.
“This forced us to brainstorm and really get to grips with exactly what we are doing,” explained Hatem. In the lead-up to the program they put together a comprehensive training guide. “Should any of us not be available for a certain session, someone else can seamlessly take over and continue with the lessons, as the plans are at the core of the program,” she explained.

According to Soufan, their experience in running school tours at the museum was a huge help in understanding the audience – the most important aspect of the program. “The different age groups have different needs,” she said.

“We offer more activities for the older ones, and let them focus on deeper visual aspects of the art,” adds Soufan. “But we don’t forget the younger ones totally in this regard.

“There are many who are also able to do so and we are often surprised by their interactions, so we have to be flexible and offer them more.

“We always have a plan B, and feel an important part of this process is to meet up after every day to discuss the progress and adapt the program as needed.”

Because the Summer Program coincided with Ramadan this year, Mathaf did not have to work around any visitors that would normally be at the museum. “We literally opened the museum just for the children,” said Hatem. “But if there were any people, we would just avoid a certain gallery until they moved on.”

To promote the event, the team contacted various schools and opened the registration process. Hatem said: “We sent email invitations with flyers out, used social media like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and placed information on our website. Word of mouth also played a huge role, as well as contacting people by phone.”

According to her, the feedback has been very positive. “The parents are very happy, and the children are over-excited, asking us the whole time ‘what are we doing next?’

Soufan added: “We try to keep them focused, also by making all the activities interactive. Children love to make things with their hands.”

As for the future, Mathaf plans to continue with the summer programs, and hope to get more children involved. Another idea is to have more age groups to better focus on their specific needs.

“We will take full advantage of whichever exhibition there is, and work around whatever theme is applicable,” added Soufan. “We also have our permanent exhibition, so we can pick and choose parts of that to complement the theme.”

According to her they must take full advantage of the resources available, and would like to engage the exhibiting artists during the future programs.

Hatem said: “The Summer Program is free and is open to anyone in Qatar, because we want to get as many participants as possible. The idea is that they learn from us, but that we also learn from them.

“In the end, it is also about putting Mathaf on the map and attracting more people to the museum.”