Teaching children how to appreciate art
I am an architect with a passion for art, but like most mothers of my generation, when it came to choosing between a badly paid job and staying with my children, I found myself opting for the latter. Ok, I had my husband who supported the family but I will never know if, when he was posted abroad, I gave up my own career as a free choice or because in a way, I was forced to do that. You suddenly find yourself abroad, new country, new language and it’s difficult to find a job in a short time, and you have small children to take care of…. and it’s more rewarding to start being a full time mother than going around trying to sell your too-short experience as an architect.
Anyway, to avoid wasting all the years I spent studying, and with the desire to know better the country where I lived at the moment, I tried to keep myself busy with painting and drawing courses and with volunteering in my children’s school and in museums.
I didn’t know that my life was going to change when on a morning of boredom I sent my CV to the Guggenheim Museum of New York. They were looking for “teaching assistants” for their program Learning Through Art. I found out later that this is one of the most prestigious programs in America, that aims to bring art in public schools, in order to give disadvantaged children the chance to experience something that the government doesn’t guarantee.
One of the most positive traits of American people is that they go straight to the goal: very practical and keen to start a relationship with strangers (unlike Italians who prefer a personal introduction or recommendation). I was a perfect stranger to the Guggenheim but apparently my CV was interesting to them and I started my volunteer work in a school in the Bronx in September 2010. In only two years, thanks to the training as a museum educator at the Guggenheim, I found also a real job as an art teacher at the Center for Art Education. It was a beautiful experience to teach children who in some cases had never used a brush and paint in their life.
When I came back to Rome in 2013, it was quite a shock for me. Italy is my country, it’s true, but after living 8 years abroad, in London and New York, I had the vivid perception that something had changed in my approach to life. We all left New York with mixed feelings of joy for going back to our country and sadness to leave a city that had given so much to us. And yet, when we set our feet on Italian soil, we were not entirely Italian anymore.
My children, who were just 5 and 7 when we left, had become teenagers and they had lived their childhood in an Anglophone society going to British or American schools, but understood Italian cultural traditions and heritage from our family life.
For kids, you know, it takes just a snap of fingers to adapt to a new situation, and after 6 months in Rome they were perfectly at ease, exploiting all their advantages in being bilingual and in having experienced so much in their still short lives.
The problem was mine: once again in my life, I had to start from scratch to find my space as an individual. I couldn’t be only a wife and a mother, not in my country, not after all that I had learned working for the Guggenheim and the CAE.
Luckily Isadora, another mother abroad, came to save me from the frustration of not being able to find a gap through the complicated and bureaucratic Italian rules that you have to follow if you want to start working in schools or museums. We joined our forces and we decided to go ahead independently founding a non-profit association: ARTandSEEKforKIDS.
For both of us it is a real pleasure to work with children. Isadora, an art historian, was immediately keen on embracing the Guggenheim method of teaching through art. In only a couple of years, we moved from art workshops for international schools to museum programmes for children and recently to art workshops for refugees, these last ones in collaboration with the Keats Shelley House. Children are engaged with art in museums and in their school, discussing, exchanging ideas and having fun exploring many different themes.
We build up our programmes in a way that would not have been possible without our experiences in different countries. After so many times when I had been thinking that it was not fair for my career, to be forced to leave a country where I was thriving, I am now aware that each and every experience I had abroad has added to my learning and made it possible to “give birth” to a company that I and my associates consider our baby. Our key aim is to equip children with a love for art and museums and for art to be part of their lives because we strongly believe that living without art is like living just half of our possible lives.