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Adventure and experience trail MINISCHIRN awakens untamed creativity

2014 | Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt

In the MINISCHIRN adventure and experience trail at the Kunsthalle SCHIRN, children can experience artistic principles intuitively and allow their love of discovery to develop.

The challenge 

Making complex principles of art accessible to children in a playful way.


Our approach 

A play course that leaves room for own discoveries and creativity.  


Skills

Design, architecture, implementation

Credits

Client: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main

Architecture and scenography: AtelierMarkgraph, Frankfurt amMain

Graphic: Christian Bitenc, Frankfurt amMain

Exhibit construction andmedia: ExpoTec, Mainz

Light: Stephan ZimmermannLightsolutions, Oberursel

Exhibition construction: Expotechnik, Frankfurt am Main

Renderings/model photos: AtelierMarkgraph, Frankfurt amMain

Documentation photos: Kristof Lemp, Darmstadt

CHILDREN ARE THE BEST ENGINEERS OF THEIR OWN DEVELOPMENT.

With the MINISCHIRN adventure and experience trail, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt am Main is expanding its art education programme - and creating a completely new format in the German exhibition scene. This is where youngsters aged three to six can explore the ABCs of creativity and art on their own.

THE HOLISTIC DESIGN CONCEPT RELIES ON TRYING THINGS OUT INSTEAD OF PREFABRICATED MESSAGES.

On more than 100 square metres, spatial stagings and experimental stations provide impulses for the visitor's own exploration of the basic principles of aesthetic perception. The architecture of the adventure and experience trail is borrowed from the idea of a tree house and leaves plenty of room for both playfulness and the urge to move and explore. Here, the children conquer the world of colours, shapes and structures: without instructions, without parents - but with lots of fun.

Explorative learning

Dr. Chantal Eschenfelder is head of the “Education and Outreach” department at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Städel Museum, and Liebieghaus in Frankfurt. In this interview, she explains why it is interesting to work with children and what contribution art education can make to holistic development.
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Dr. Eschenfelder, you’re in charge of a diverse programme with an ambitious goal: catering to the interests of a wide range of visitors. What makes children special as an audience?

We find children particularly interesting as an audience for two reasons. Firstly, we know from experience – and also from official scientific research – that the sooner you introduce children to art and museums, the greater the long-term benefits will be. It might spark an interest in cultural topics, for example, or strengthen personal abilities such as perception or creativity. Some people do still say “Why do a kids’ programme at all, they think it’s boring” Or “That’s far too early.” But much less often, happily.

Secondly, children are totally open. Unlike adults who have been shaped by so many influences, children are inquisitive. They take an interest in everything and everyone, but particularly in art and creativity. It makes no difference whether it’s old masters or contemporary art. Children come straight out with their questions and feelings, so you can enter into discussion more intensively – and perhaps experiment with themes and materials in a more diverse way.

If children have their own special interests and a special way of grasping and seeing, how do you approach young visitors?

The days of lecture-style guided tours for children are over. You need to respond spontaneously to what children observe. Children see differently; where adults tend to see the big picture, children notice details more. They spot things adults often miss completely. The most important point with guided tours for children is to spark their interest and fan the flame.

Progressive pedagogy respects the idea that children drive their own development, and teach themselves. What can we offer children without putting words into their mouth?

Give children a range of impulses, and the rest will develop more or less by itself. These could be works of art that are really unusual or particularly loud, or really big or small, or gaudy, or not gaudy at all – it all depends. The important thing is to not divide things up into categories. In the old days everything was clearly delineated. In art, all you did was art; in technology, all you did was technology. But when children conquer their world, it’s the whole world they conquer. So, a puddle can be fun to jump into, but it’s also interesting to watch how the surface moves and how your own reflection changes. In the eyes of a child, different elements from technology, natural science and art merge seamlessly. It’s important for museum child educational programmes to not restrict that openness.

How does that work in practice in an exhibition? What are the first thoughts and steps when you develop a programme specially for children?

Unlike most other museums, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt has no permanent collection; we live from temporary exhibitions. Rather than offering general art education, we strive to explain what makes each exhibition special. So, for instance, we try to distil topics that correspond to children’s own worlds and interests. We tailor our programmes to suit individual groups too. Not just age-wise, but also for children who come with their parents at the weekend, for younger and older, and for school classes.

One really important building block is the practical, hands-on part after children have seen the exhibition.

The Schirn has created separate spaces for that part. What is the significance of MINISCHIRN as an exceptional extension to those spaces?

We already had the Schirn Studio where children can do things like design, paint or work with clay. But MINISCHIRN is a new offering that’s fundamentally different from all that. We believe it complements our existing programme – which of course we’re keeping – perfectly. MINISCHIRN lets children do what they normally can’t do in exhibitions: move about and discover things for themselves without their parents influencing or obstructing them. It’s designed for our youngest visitors, aged roughly three to eight. The key thing with MINISCHIRN is that we can foster basic aesthetic abilities, or teach the ’abc of aesthetics’ as we like to say. MINISCHIRN lets children approach the basics of aesthetic design playfully without anyone explaining or making rules. Children are completely free to follow their own curiosity, and explore the different levels as they wish.

In the early days of modern art, childlike fantasy was a liberating argument against traditional education. Is that still the case? To what extent do children benefit?

In the late 19th and early 20th century, artists started to push back against academy rules and seek direct forms of expression that were better suited to the life and the society that had developed. It was a quest for the original, and perhaps for a paradise lost. Think of Paul Gauguin, or Emil Nolde, who allegedly drew inspiration from children’s drawings; or take others who sought their own paradise in exotic worlds or ethnology museums and masks: those were all attempts to free mankind from the so-called educational ballast and its conventions. It was the start of a long process.

There was a boom in art education in Germany during the educational reforms of the 1960s. People saw the potential, but they also misunderstood a few things. When Joseph Beuys said “everyone is an artist”, for example, some people took that literally and saw everything children expressed as art. In the process, critical perceptions and artistic standards often got lost. But on the other hand, that’s a restricted view of the creative process in child development too. Even in basic processes of aesthetic perception like distinguishing colours and shapes, the laws and phenomena from many disciplines such as mathematics, biology, psychology and art are connected. Today, we’ve moved on. We see the education process holistically, we make it interdisciplinary, and we field terms like ’explorative learning’ in support of our argument. That’s exactly what we’re doing with MINISCHIRN.

What should holistic creative support involve, and what form should it take?

Let me give you a really successful programme from our education portfolio as an example. It’s called “Culture Explorer!” and was developed together with a school in Frankfurt, which meant we could use an ideal interdisciplinary approach. First, the school chemistry lessons took paints as their subject. Next, the class came to us at the Städel and looked at works of art done with paints made in different ways. Then the pupils set up their own mediaeval paint factory with pigments and egg whites. Now that’s holistic learning!

Do children really need art?

Definitely! I remember an anecdote about a distinguished chemistry professor and Leibniz award winner who visited his old school. They showed him proudly around the new chemistry labs and asked what he thought. The head teacher was aghast at his reply. “It’s nice when schools have this sort of thing”, the professor said,” but to be honest, what helped me most in later life were my art lessons. That’s where I learned to think in three dimensions.”

After the PISA results shock in Germany it was definitely right to strengthen the STEM subjects, but not at the expense of art and music lessons. In my view, that was the wrong place to save money. Without cultural education, valuable characteristics wither away. They need stimulation – passive and active – to develop, and that includes being confronted with art. Today, we’re well on the way to achieving that again – and MINISCHIRN is the best example.

Credits

Client: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main

Architecture and scenography: AtelierMarkgraph, Frankfurt amMain

Graphic: Christian Bitenc, Frankfurt amMain

Exhibit construction andmedia: ExpoTec, Mainz

Light: Stephan ZimmermannLightsolutions, Oberursel

Exhibition construction: Expotechnik, Frankfurt am Main

Renderings/model photos: AtelierMarkgraph, Frankfurt amMain

Documentation photos: Kristof Lemp, Darmstadt

Awards

Winner, Red Dot Award 2015

Merit Award, ADC Deutschland 2015

Gold, CommAwards 2015

Special Mention, German Design Award 2016

Nomination, ADC of Europe 2015

Silver, FAMAB Award 2015