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The Arts in Education
Dignitaries Cut Ribbon at Met’s New Uris Center for Education

By Sybil Maimin

The impressive $75 million redesigned and rebuilt Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education at The Metropolitan Museum of Art reflects a determination to give the decades-old teaching facility new importance and dignity. The limestone walls and floors, light-colored wood paneling, great natural and artificial light, and sense of spaciousness contribute to a warm and inviting experience. Citing the Center’s role as gateway to the venerable institution above it and the importance of first impressions, museum director Philippe de Montebello said, “Now you know you’re in a museum.”  In a joyous ceremony on NOVEMBER 25, Inaugural Day, dignitaries from city and state government, artists, donors, and museum educators cut a large ribbon and invited an enthusiastic public of adults and children to enter the facility and partake of its offerings. Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein explained his department is “no longer insular” and sees partnerships as key elements in transforming the system. “The Metropolitan provides an educational opportunity every day to children from all over the city. . . Some who have never been to a museum come here.” New York State Lieutenant Governor David A. Patterson applaudingly noted, “This Center will ensure that the knowledge and beauty that lie in its confines will be shared by all ... The young people who come here will be making the art of the future.”  Popular singer and artist Tony Bennett reminisced that when he attended the High School of Industrial Art, “It was not easy for a student to gain entrance to the museum. . . I had to go through a side door. . . It’s so different now.” Clarisse Quirit, a student at the Bennett-sponsored  Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, confessed, “Masters shown at the Met inspire us to do our best . . . Art is our voice, the means to say what we feel.”

It was a proud day for visionary de Montebello, who noted that the Uris Center “now renewed and reconfigured for the twenty-first century . . . is the largest and best-equipped art education center in the world.” Citing the army of volunteers and many generous donors (“The Uris name has been synonymous with The Met for a quarter century.”), he maintained, “This could only happen in America” where “everyone is so engaged.” The ultimate goal of The Met is “appreciation of the collection,” and key to making that happen is Kent Lydecker, associate director for education. Lydecker explained The Met opened a Junior Museum in 1941 with space for youngsters and people trained to work with them, creating a model for museums around the country. Displays were built especially for instructing school children, although teaching in the galleries became the sine qua non for any education program. Film and television were utilized early on and some form of audio guide gave access to expert commentary. By “teaching from the collection,” art-making workshops emphasize that everything in the museum has been made by somebody; working with similar materials brings appreciation for the challenges faced by the masters. According to Lydecker, “The experience with the work of art is the thing from which everything flows.” Lydecker is excited about technology in the Center and the ability to “make connections” here and around the world. Video-conferencing, equipment to document and archive presentations, WiFi access, multimedia abilities, and the museum’s mega research tool, The Timeline of Art History (www.metmuseum.org/toah) make research, sharing, and connecting easy and pleasurable.

The newly configured Uris Center for Education includes a large meeting hall where groups can gather and learn about programs and the collections from multimedia presentations, a grand entry corridor with useful and attractive glass display windows, a well-equipped studio and classroom for art-making and related activities, a state-of-the-art study room where scholars, students, and the public can interact with curators and other experts, a lecture hall seating 125, a seminar room, the Nolen Library with a children’s reading area, books and periodicals, study tables, and computers (WiFi).  A Teacher Resource Center offers a variety of materials for educators including neatly packaged kits in eighteen individual subjects ranging from The Art of Ancient Egypt to 20th Century Art.  Kits, which can be borrowed, include subject information, DVD’s, slides, posters, and study guides.

The Met has long offered art education programs for people with disabilities. The new Center provides enhanced opportunities such as the Touch Collection, 130 original or high-quality reproductions of museum works such as ancient Greek statues or medieval armor, which can be touched and discussed in the art study room by blind or partially sighted individuals. Trained educators describe works to individuals or groups on Verbal Imaging Tours in the galleries. Assistive listening devices and sign language-interpreted tours are offered to visitors who are hard of hearing or deaf. Art workshops are available on site or off for developmentally disabled adults and children and their families.

Ken Lydecker muses that the new Center “was built on lots of hopes and dreams. . . In the future, we will see how it plays out.” He believes that reaching out to children brings connections with parents and the building of family relationships that last a lifetime. The entry to adulthood, or college age, is another formative moment. If connections are made at that time, they become permanent.#



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