National Gallery of Denmark

Marianne Grymer Bargeman

Head, Children & Youth Department

Nana Bernhardt

Head, School programmes

National Gallery of Denmark

Solvgade 48-50 DK—1307 Kobenhavn K. Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

European Museum Academy Hands On! - 2014 Children in Museums Award

The World Of Art Can Be Reached By Many Roads

Example no. 1:
The Danish musician Peter Bastian is visiting an art museum with his grandchild. After a while the child exclaims: “I’m bored”. Peter Bastian replies: “Do you know what, pet? That’s the beauty of art museums”.

Example no. 2:
In connection with the SMK’s current exhibition for children, What Makes a Home?, the SMK created a special activity for the winter holidays: a play area where children can use 500 cardboard boxes to build houses. After having played with the boxes, a father and his son approach the Information desk, quite breathless, and ask: “What else is there for us to try?”.

The two examples illustrate different approaches to visiting and using art museums with children. For Peter Bastian, the state of being bored is a positive one: with art and art museums you never know what you get. Sometimes we are surprised and see something we have never seen before. At other times we get bored. According to Bastian, this is of great value and benefit to us in itself; the aspect of unpredictability lifts us out of the humdrum habits of everyday life and prompts us to wonder at the world. The father in the second example arrives at the museum expecting to be activated – physically, too – and his question is reminiscent of the logic usually applied at amusement parks. Perhaps the winter holiday workshops imprinted him with these expectations: “this was fun and easy to do – so what’s next??”

13smk1xMany doors can open up onto the world of art, ranging from boredom to physical activity, from thoughts and words to hands busily working. This article is about some of the many pathways that can lead you to the world of art, and about some of the challenges you may encounter along the way.

The Children in Museums Award
The Children in Museums Award was set up in 2012 by European Museum Academy (EMA) and the international children’s museum organisation Hands On! International. The award is presented annually, and in 2014 it went to the SMK in recognition of the SMK’s overall work for children and teens over the course of many years.

The jury’s reasons for choosing the SMK as the winner included the following statements: “The jury was unanimous in praising the in-depth and high quality presentation, materials and programmes for children, which they considered unique for an art museum. Children are taken seriously by curators and director, and ideas from the children’s presentation are adapted in the main museum. Complex subjects, well researched, are made accessible to children and offer a unique, surprising and stimulating environment based on the idea of freedom of thought and an original approach. (…) The combination of workshop spaces, exhibition area and drawing room is a unique idea.”

Visions and objectives
For the SMK, receiving this award represented the culmination of many years of strategic work with and for children and teens; work that has taken the form of special programmes designed specifically for pre-schoolers, schools, young adults, and families. Our overall vision for our work with children and young people is to improve their opportunities in life by means of art and creativity. In our work we focus on mutual learning processes, and all projects are, to the greatest extent possible, based on user involvement. In our day-to-day activities we work to ensure:
- that art and creativity can play an active part in the everyday lives of all children and young people
- that knowledge and lessons learned are shared and made accessible
- that The Children and Youth Department acts as a microcosm for learning within our organisation

Zones within the museum’s collections
The SMK collections are home to art that spans seven centuries, from the early Renaissance to the latest cutting-edge works. The collections constitute the heart of the museum, and when the collection displays were rearranged in 2011 the museum decided to create two special zones that are particularly family-friendly. The results were the Match-SMK set-up and the drawing studio, both of which offer new avenues of approach to the world of art.
The Match SMK set-up consists of a long piece of wooden furniture placed inside one of the largest exhibition rooms. Built into this piece of furniture visitors can find board games developed especially for families with children aged six to ten. The objective of the game is to invent good stories based on the art in the room. (see photo). The drawing studio is distinctively different from the other rooms in the museum with its interactive shelves and its flea-market chairs. It also offers the opportunity to hand in a drawing, thereby taking part in the monthly drawing competition.

Exhibitions for children
The museum collections also form the starting point for the special exhibitions for children, which the museum has staged from 1994 onwards. These exhibitions often involve a specific theme, addressing big questions such as life and death or what freedom is. The target group is children aged six to twelve, and the displays are suitable for school excursions as well as for families visiting on their own. All of these exhibitions are always developed in close co-operation with children. The objectives of the museum’s exhibitions for children are:

1. To create relevant, engaging exhibitions that present first-rate art on the children’s own terms by means of close co-operation with children and museum/education professionals.
2. To create spaces for contemplation in which a few, selected works (presented with young audiences in mind) take up a lot of space – mentally as well as physically.
3. To stimulate children’s imagination, creativity and sense of wonder by means of dialogue, multivoicedness and diversity.
4. To experiment with various aspects of learning education, presentation, space and design, thereby allowing these exhibitions to act as a microcosm and sandbox for learning that can be fruitfully applied to other activities within the organisation.
5. To document and evaluate the exhibitions in co-operation with external researchers and academics.

13smk2xOur current exhibition What Makes a Home? was opened with a massive pillow fight staged in front of the museum; an event that Denmark’s largest newspaper Politiken described as the most hilarious opening ever in the whole history of the SMK .

Children and young people in 2015
The children and young people of today are open-minded, extrovert, social, communicative, active and restlessThey enjoy great freedom, but this also includes the freedom of freefalling. Everywhere we find that high demands are placed on each individual’s ability to navigate, to assert one’s own direction and yardsticks, to find meaning where no standards and norms exist. Today, more than ever, being young requires robustness, resilience, endurance, self-control, a keen conscience, curiosity and independence. We believe that encountering art can enhance young people’s ability to face new challenges and stimulate their willingness to experiment and reflect on things as part of a wider community.

Some of the challenges we are facing are: how can we create spaces that suit children and adults, young and old? Spaces that invite contemplation and movement, active participation and boredom? John Cage says: “If something is boring for two minutes, try it for four.” That is one road you could take; there are many others, too. We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and to discussing our deliberations in greater detail this September in Dubrovnik.

Read more about our practice in the book Dialogue-based Teaching. The Art Museum as a Learning Space and on our website


Browse by year

Browse by category

Browse by country

View all