Kevin and Victoria Burr and their infant daughter Aurora regularly attended sessions of Baby Artsplay! at NOMA in the spring of 2017, driving an hour each way from their home in Picayune, Mississippi, to participate in this stimulating education program for the museum’s youngest visitors. Baby ArtsPlay!, presented by The Helis Foundation, instills a love of art at the impressionable ages of 0-3 through a guided, hands-on gallery experience. Young Audiences Wolf Trap teaching artists present a sequence of six weekly workshops for caregivers and children that integrate music, movement, and drama into everyday playtime to foster children’s developmental growth. Arts Quarterly spoke with this family following one of the spirited sessions.
How did you become aware of Baby Artsplay!?
Kevin: Coming from Picayune, there were few opportunities in our hometown to provide the kind of early education we wanted for our daughter. We went online and figured let’s start with the popular places, like the museums and parks in New Orleans, the parks and stuff like that. My wife said, “Kevin, I found this arts play for babies. It’s at the New Orleans Museum of Art!” We drove down and found out what a cool program this is, and we bought a membership so that we could return many times.
Victoria: Our daughter was so excited. The teachers were impressed that Aurora began to notice the mobile (by Alexander Calder) hanging from the ceiling. Normally, they say, the kids only notice things at eye level. One of the teachers, Mama Oma, has been Montessori trained and she led programs like this for her kids. There are multiple teachers in Baby Artsplay! and the kids really get special attention. They begin to notice colors in the art, and shapes. Where else can you take your kids for a fun program where there’s famous art on the walls?
Kevin: And much of the program includes songs. As parents we’d never be able to search out all the songs that are taught here. The kids learn about body parts, and they dance along. A week or two later Aurora is still doing all the little movements she picked up in the class.
How do the parents engage with the program?
Kevin: It’s great for adults to come to the museum, too, which you may think is more difficult once you have a kid. With Aurora and Baby Artsplay! visiting a museum is really more fun. It’s not all “shhhh” from the guards. Everybody in this program is happy, and that makes visiting the museum a very uplifting experience.
Victoria: We actually arranged our work schedule completely around being able to come down to New Orleans to attend these programs. I asked for Tuesdays off just to be able to do this, and it’s worth it.
Kevin: Number one is making sure Aurora gets the best education possible, even if it’s somewhat inconvenient and out of the way. I tell people, having kids is inconvenient, but not in a negative way. It’s like, “Hey, I have this little human, and we need to make sure she gets the most out of life.” Now is the perfect time to get her started with the fundamentals of art and music.
How have you benefitted from Baby Artsplay!?
Victoria: There are very few Montessori schools in the New Orleans area. I was pricing preschools, and it was $7,000 a year. So to be able to have something like this that’s so accessible, you don’t have to take out a loan for kindergarten!
Baby Artsplay! breaks down the barriers. It allows us to introduce art into our daughter’s life now versus later. If you don’t grow up around wealth, you may not be exposed to art at such a young age. We can get Aurora used to seeing and respecting art even if we do not have this in our home. I encourage all parents to bring their children to this.
Kevin: A lot of children don’t get introduced to art until later, on a school field trip, in middle school or when they’re older, and they may not find it interesting at that point. You have to follow all the rules from the teacher trying to force it on you. It may feel foreign, but it wouldn’t feel that way if you grew up around it. It becomes part of your life. We want our daughter to be as smart as possible, and introduced to as much as possible. Baby Artsplay! makes that possible.