A Day at the Met 2013
Renee Brown’s update on this year’s A Day at the Met program, and why this field trip matters for our students.
Growing up my family and I didn’t frequent art museums and it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I was introduced to the world of art. In the beginning art museums were very intimidating for me because I was certain there was a correct way to view the art; a way that I hadn’t been taught. It was the chance encounter with an art historian that changed my perception of how to appreciate all the works that are held within the walls of a museum. This encounter was the key that unlatched my love for museums and gave me a new found confidence about my personal interpretation of art; rescuing me from the harsh judgments I held of myself in regards to how I interacted with all the museums New York City has to offer. A Day at the Met, Arts For All’s yearly event, strives to introduce, enthuse, and empower children throughout the city with the magic that is held within a museum.
The key moment that I shared with the art historian many years ago is something I try to bring each year to the participating students with A Day at the Met, and I believe is the reason Anna Roberts Ostroff created such a wonderful day for school children nine years ago. Encouraging the enthusiasm and insights the students have for the art shown is an incredibly powerful tool in fostering the continuation of excitement for the works of art and culture that they will continue to encounter as they grow and develop into adults.
A Day at the Met is generously sponsored each year by Capgemini and includes lunch in the Met cafeteria for all the students, chaperones, and volunteers. The participating groups this year have both shared the day with us in previous years; however, each year different batches of students from the groups join in the day. This year we had second graders from the Bronx’s PS163 and mixed ages from New Alternatives for Children (NAC). PS163 and NAC’s children are boundless with their appreciation, excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to be a guest at The Met. Due to their constricted facilities, PS163 has limited arts programming and 96% of the student body is living below the poverty rate. New Alternative’s for Children serve children with medical disabilities and/or chronic illnesses. The students at both organizations have an incredible eagerness to learn and this provides a wonderful experience for the volunteers, Met guides, and their accompanying teachers and chaperones who sacrifice one of their days off during the weekend to contribute to the further growth of their students.
Personally, each year the uniqueness of A Day at the Met is an experience that tops the previous year; I am continually surprised by the never ending special moments that emerge frequently throughout the day. This year for example, the students lit up when they saw the different kinds of swords and were able to recognize a Samurai in contrast to the other swords on display in the Arms and Armory afternoon tour; they couldn’t stop exclaiming “This is so cool!” They were also in awe with the way armor would fit a knight, especially in the feet. A lot of giggling took place in the afternoon armory tour at how big and boxy the armor needed to be in order to cover the boots of the Knights when they entered a battle.
I had the pleasure of giving an afternoon tour again this year and introduced the 18th and 19th century American rooms to the groups. I was able to weave in basic historical facts of the founding of our country and was pleasantly surprised by the information they already knew. The teachers and chaperones that accompany the kids are always actively involved in the tours as well. This year the teachers spontaneously pulled out ten dollar bills from their wallets when we stopped at a painting of Alexander Hamilton for them to compare his two different pictures. The kids also loved the opportunity to identify what was different about their homes versus the ones that our ancestors might have lived in. Their confidence grew as they eagerly pointed out what they liked and disliked-each child excited to share their observations and insights. At points they were part student, part detective trying to determine the function of the locked bookcases that had curtains attached to the inside and a huge silver tray that dominated one dining table.
The cherry topping of the day is when the activities have to come to an end and the shy children we meet in the morning are now the talkative, loving children in the afternoon. Nothing says thank you better than a line of kids waiting their turn to give you a hug of appreciation. I feel extremely fortunate for the continuous opportunity to participate in A Day at the Met. The humbling lesson I re-learn every year is it doesn’t take much to make a difference in a child’s life. From my experience I have realized the basic ingredients are: giving up a small portion of your time, really listening to their ideas and encouraging them to think in greater detail. Children desperately want to be heard and encouraged and I think adults can help water the seed of a more confident future generation by listening and encouraging at every given opportunity.