Ahead of the reopening of Maine’s Children’s Discovery Museum in its new Waterville location, Executive Director Amarinda Keys ’14 has made community input a priority. Among the voices she’s incorporating are those of area artists who will develop the museum’s new interactive exhibits.
Keys found the perfect partner in award-winning artist Veronica Perez, a former Lunder Institute for American Art Residential Fellow with a penchant for collaborative art-making.
“The first time we met, we just clicked,” Perez said of Keys, who last summer was touring Colby’s Greene Block + Studios, where Perez had studio space. “We were on that same wavelength of wanting to not only build something for the community but build something with the community.”
Led by their shared affinity for community art, Keys and Perez dared to take their partnership one step further by inviting children into the design process.
With support from the Colby Arts Office, the Colby Museum of Art, and the Center for the Arts and Humanities, Perez held a series of workshops this spring for children ages 3-12 to help create pieces of art for three exhibits.
In the first workshop, children drew flowers and tie-dyed swatches of fabric that Perez will transform into large fabric flower sculptures. Using the drawings as patterns, she’ll cut out flowers from durable fabric she had printed with the tie-dye patterns, preserving the children’s strokes as she goes. She’ll add stems embedded with thick wire to make the sculptures sturdy. The idea is to construct flowers 36 to 48 inches tall that children can “plant” in a flower box.
The second workshop involved balloons and paper-mache—and plenty of giggles. Children were making “poop balls” to accompany a large spider that will loom overhead in another exhibit. Older children used sewing machines to quilt together green and brown fabric pieces that Perez will use for larger poop balls, maybe in the form of beanbags.
Aside from being a lot of fun, the workshops encouraged children to see themselves as artists, said Perez, who had limited examples of artists as a child. When children come to the museum and say, “I made that,” they’ll see a piece of themselves. “Their world opens up a little more,” said Perez.
Keys sees other benefits in including children. “It grows confidence and boosts children’s self-esteem. We’re telling them that we care about what they think. We value their ideas, and that’s really important for them as they grow.”
Originally from Berwick, Maine, Keys studied sociology and human development and made civic engagement a central part of her Colby experience. A Colby Cares About Kids mentor, she also tutored at a local school, taught at the Kennebec Montessori School, and volunteered with the Children’s Discovery Museum. Since 2015, she’s led the museum and overseen its move from Augusta to Waterville, where it will open in 2023 in a former church on Upper Main Street.
Perez (they/them) is a Maine-based multidisciplinary artist whose sculptures use unconventional objects like synthetic hair and discarded objects to explore contemporary Latinx and feminist issues. Their most recent solo show, voices, whispering, is on view at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland through Sept. 11. They also have extensive experience working with communities, including as a social worker.
As a Lunder Institute Residential Fellow, Perez advanced their work in new and meaningful ways. From dialoguing with others from Latinx backgrounds to studying art in the Colby Museum to receiving logistical and financial support, Perez felt validated and visible.
It’s the same message Perez and Keys are communicating to Waterville-area children and families through their community art projects. By creating opportunities for art-making, they provide a forum for people to interact and grow as a community.
Keys believes the benefits are far-reaching and long-lasting. “This partnership,” she said, “was just such a dream for the Children’s Museum.”
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