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LAByrinth: A Community-Developed Exhibition by artist Wes Sam-Bruce and The New Children's Museum

February 11, 2016

February 11, 2016

By Kara Baltazar

In 2013, The New Children’s Museum located in downtown San Diego launched its Mass Creativity outreach program. The program’s purpose was for the museum to expand outside its walls and provide authentic art experiences for families in underserved San Diego neighborhoods. During the following two years, the museum engaged six artists in bringing hands-on studio art projects to twelve diverse community centers, and reached over 4,700 people, many who were first-time visitors to the museum. Each year, the outreach effort culminated in a joyful festival held at the museum.

While these numbers indicated success, the museum also saw the program as a huge opportunity to deepen our impact, provide a more enriching workshop experience, and use it as an avenue to experiment with the idea of a community developed exhibition. In early 2015, The New Children’s Museum built on the success of Mass Creativity to commission artist Wes Sam-Bruce to imagine, design, and guide a new project called LAByrinth, which is supported partially by IMLS funding.  

So what is LAByrinth?

·        It is a series of Mass Creativity outreach workshops titled Play in the Neighborhood that were held in 2015 and continue into 2016. 

·        It includes a Cryptographers Spy Club, a temporary prototype designed to help observe and document stories and experiences of museum visitors.

·        It is a future semi-permanent museum exhibition coming in summer 2016 which could be a large climbing structure, a giant fort, or even a magical wooden hideout. 

Truly, LAByrinth is many things.

Photo Courtesy of The New Children's Museum

Its own namesake hints at the idea that art is a process; a maze of ideas that creatively converge into one spectacular thing, moment, and experience. This idea uniquely mirrors the mission and theory of change that The New Children’s Museum embodies as we open our doors each day. Our mission is to stimulate imagination, creativity, and critical thinking in children and families through inventive and engaging experiences with contemporary art. It is our belief that as we implement this mission a change occurs. This is a change in perspective that gives birth to an optimistic outlook. Children grow as they begin to confidently problem solve and collaborate together. Ultimately, a creative spark is born as families play and create together in the museum.

Photos Courtesy of The New Children's Museum

As change occurs in the children and families we serve, it is imperative that a shift take place internally as we develop each exhibition. If we want to deepen our impact, we must strengthen the exhibition development process. While we still create exhibits for functionality and fun, we now deeply look at the conceptual context within each installation. A reflective and open approach is fostered by using Appreciative Inquiry as the foundation for this positive change. 

As part of this new practice of bridging community outreach to a built museum installation, we’ve partnered closely with Patti Saraniero of Moxie Research to evaluate the entire project. With her expertise, Patti has helped develop tools to accurately observe and document the stories and interactions of families at each workshop and within the museum. As an institution, we are learning what families are actually interested in, where they find value and meaning, and how we can become an important resource in their lives. 

Emerging from local neighborhoods and play-based experiences at The New Children's Museum, these ideas will define and shape both what LAByrinth is and what it will become.   

You can view an excerpt from the 2015 Mass Creativity Day here.

Kara Baltazar is public programs and outreach coordinator at The New Children's Museum in San Diego.