Kids exploring Missão/Missões [How to Build Cathedrals] by Cildo Meireles

In this posting, Blanton educator Jennifer Garner relays the wonders and rewards of sharing art with students in our ART CENTRAL program….
This week, we are having our last Art Central tours of the season. For those of you who don’t know about Art Central, it is The Blanton’s multiple-visit school program for fourth and fifth graders from all over the Austin area. Students in the program come to the museum four times during the school year to experience art from many different time periods and cultures.
Over the course of the year, the kids really develop in their ability to speak and to write about works of art. They learn about how certain artworks are made, messages that artists can communicate, how to read a museum label, and even about the various jobs within the museum.
On this last tour, we always take the students to see Cildo Meireles’s Missão/Missões (How to Build Cathedrals)? an artwork that is shown to them on their first visit, and one that really dazzles them. Seeing it for the second time, the students have all the anticipation of a person visiting a friend they haven’t seen in a while. I think this is in part because it’s the only work in the collection that they can touch.
We have the kids begin by sitting in the gallery along the wall to look at the installation from the outside. They make such great observations: They notice the black, veil-like material that surrounds it; they notice the apparatus that holds up the structure; they even comment about the dark wall color and lack of lighting in the gallery. We talk as a group about why Meireles’s work was installed this way and how the choices for installation really bring attention to the artwork itself.
Then the students step inside the piece and find a seat on one of the paving stones. They are quick to remind you of all the things they have learned about the work. For example, many kids point out that it includes real cow bones. Some will say that they know there are 2,000 bones or 600,000 pennies or that the pennies all come from the year 2005.
They also like to tell you that this artwork is very different from the others they have seen because they can step inside of it. For many of the students, they say that this is their favorite artwork they have learned about this year. Sometimes they tell kids from the younger grades about the work they call “the pennies,” so next year a few of the students will ask to see it.
At the end of our last visit, we have them reflect on what they have learned about art; we ask them, “What do you know now that you didn’t know before you were in Art Central?” Of course, they have lots to say such as, “Art is not just paintings,” or “A lot of different things can be called art,” or even, “Art doesn’t just mean one thing.” We listen, nod, and smile. Yes, those are the experiences that nurture kids to find something meaningful in art.

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