Retooled Art Venture Vows To Be More Connected

The new Art Venture at the Taubman is designed to provide more opportunities for interaction.

by Gene Marrano

It didn’t quite work the first time so Art Venture, the first floor, hands-on space for youngsters at the Taubman Museum of Art, has been retooled. The new Art Venture made its debut last week after several local elementary school classes took it out on a test run. Taubman Executive Director David Mickenberg hailed the part that community input and the work of local artists had in recreating Art Venture – and in keeping the remodeling price tag down.

He called it a “$400,000 rebirth… that was done for approximately $150,000,” and “a sign of the support for the community that we were able to do this.” Local artists and craftsmen helped build features for the new Art Venture. Private donations from longtime museum supporters Sheila and Maury Strauss, among others, also helped fund the makeover. A formal ribbon cutting was held last weekend.

“It’s something that’s taken a lot of planning and effort,” said Mickenberg, “[and] its future lies in how we work with the community.”  Cindy Petersen, the director of School and Community-based education, and her staff are also planning to have something new scheduled at Art Venture on a weekly basis – some new reason for parents to bring their kids back in. “A changing environment for the young,” Mickenberg called it.

Mickenberg also said the Taubman staff would continue, “seeking input from parents,” to make sure Art Venture works in the future. The new layout is more open and airy; there’s a second floor mezzanine that offers display space for art made by members of the community and schoolchildren in the museum’s art school programs.  Art educators at local schools will also be in the loop so that Art Venture programs are connected to what teachers are doing.

There are now 13 stations at Art Venture, including spaces for painting, sculpture, drawing, music and visual art. There’s a stage for puppet theater shows, a giant dry erase board, a huge wall-mounted color wheel designed by local artist Kurt Steger and stations for older students as well.

Steger also designed the sculpture table, which is now round but can be re-configured into other shapes. A sensory station includes touch plates and different materials for youngsters to explore. The Roanoke Children’s Theatre, also housed at the Taubman, helped design the puppet theater stage.

The circular sculpture table will feature pieces on loan from local artists that young visitors will use as inspiration when they try to create their own works. Two small ravens from Betty Branch (a favorite subject for her) are the first works to be displayed. A 3D printing station and drawing/printmaking areas will also change on a regular basis for older children.

The Taubman claims to serve more than 18,000 children annually via in-house education programs and outreach efforts; the new Art Venture was designed to be more interactive and dynamic for that same audience. “Every time they come in there’s something different for [children] to do,” said Petersen of the new mission for Art Venture, “the activities [will] change out constantly. It is a fabulous opportunity to work with the community at different levels.”

Petersen called the remodeled version of Art Venture an “interactive exploratory gallery where [people] can come time and time again to discover art, and participate in the museum.” In fact many of the activities will be tied to exhibits in the museum itself, such as exploring themes and motifs used by artists being shown.

There are some families that come back to the Taubman every weekend for the free Spectacular Saturdays. Petersen wants to make sure that many make Art Venture one of their first stops, if they have children in tow. “What should a place like this have, to make it exciting for children?” asks Petersen, who will be posing that same question to the community on a regular basis going forward.