Class from P.S. 6 in the galleries, 1924. Photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
«My first day as senior manager of the Museum's Uris Center for Education in July 2010 was an exhilarating and hectic day, chock-full of new information, faces, and experiences. The third annual P.S. Art exhibition was on display in the corridor alongside Carson Family Hall, and the space was alive with the expressive and vibrant artwork of New York City public school students. This burst of artistic energy greeted me every morning until it came time to return the artwork to the talented young artists who had created it. Now empty, beige, and boring, the cases begged for something to fill them. I thought, "This area needs some visuals to introduce visiting schoolchildren to the Met experience. These walls should never be bare!" I began thinking about what we could exhibit that would be visually stimulating and representative of the Uris Center's educational mission.»
But what to display? Walking around the staff areas of the Museum, I often encountered black-and-white photographs depicting the Museum's past. There were photographs of the facade, galleries, visitors, and staff at work. A few photographs of children in the galleries made me wonder if there were more stored away somewhere—ones that showed that education has been a mainstay of the Museum's mission throughout its history. I felt it was important for today's youth to see youngsters from other eras learning about and enjoying art.
Student artist at work, 1910. Photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
DeWayne Phillips, senior operations coordinator in the Uris Center, suggested that we see what was available in the Museum's internal image databases. In a preliminary search, I discovered about a dozen photographs that depicted children in the Museum's galleries and classrooms. DeWayne and I then met with Eileen Sullivan, associate Museum librarian in the Image Library, who showed us several additional folders of archival photographs. Our mission as we looked through the photographs was to create a diverse exhibition that showed children of various backgrounds enjoying art in the galleries. We also thought visiting schoolchildren would be interested in seeing what the Museum facade and Fifth Avenue looked like in the "old" days. We were delighted to find photographs that showed these subjects.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Fifth Avenue facade, 1917. Photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
With a total of thirty-five photographs, I asked the Education Department staff to choose their favorites; the twenty with the most votes have become the pool from which we will choose ten to display at a time. Whenever we dismantle a special exhibition, we will put up a different combination of photographs.
I've been getting very positive feedback from many of the staff and visitors who pass through the Uris corridor. I am thrilled with how the exhibition turned out, and I hope that it enhances the aesthetic and educational experience of all who visit Uris for years to come.
The current rotation of photographs will be on view until June 7, when P.S. Art 2011 will temporarily take its place. The next rotation of photographs will be installed in January 2012 following the 9/11 Peace Story Quilt exhibition.
Marlene Graham is senior manager of the Uris Center for Education.
See a Flickr set of all twenty photographs in the installation.