A baby screams, gravel litters the floor, and I spend the next week shaking topsoil out of my hair. It certainly isn’t glamorous, but my fingers smell like rosemary and a five-year-old is excited about Robert Smithson. Discovery Day at The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is a brutal day. Crushing crowds and cacophonous noise combine to create pandemonium throughout the museum. The day’s thematic events attract young families in particular, some of which drive for hours in order to participate. People flood the museum, armed with maps, schedules, and diaper bags. They want to see everything.
They want to visit my art making table, alluring with its herbal scent, small glass jars, and mounds of earth. Today, to go with the museum’s environmental theme, we make tiny terrariums and talk about Earthworks artists. Infants are content to dig their fingers into the soft, loamy dirt and bury their noses in bouquets of herbs. Toddlers funnel gravel,dirt, and pebbles into their jars. We take plant clippings, we overturn beakers of water. It is muddy and wonderful. Adults hover with baby wipes and weary expressions. What these parents may perceive as chaotic was planned. What seems unorganized was an intentionally planned multi-sensory, multi-age activity that provides something, though not necessarily the SAME thing, to everyone that gets their hands dirty.
I work for Oil and Cotton, a creative exchange in the Bishop Arts District of Dallas. Through Oil and Cotton, I have the opportunity to provide arts-based content at The Perot’s monthly Discovery Days as a vendor. From an educator’s point of view, this is a tall order. We need to highlight the symbiotic relationship between art and science. We need to be able to strike a balance between serving the greatest possible number of people in the most efficient amount of time while still ensuring a rich educational opportunity. We need to be a unique experience. We need to account for all ages and abilities. What can we do that is economically viable? Environmentally responsible? Safe? Representative of Oil and Cotton? That parents won’t mind lugging around in their diaper bags while holding a screaming toddler?Most importantly, I try to ensure that our activities are appropriate in different ways for the myriad ages our table attracts. We typically serve infants, grandparents, teenagers, and everything in between, often simultaneously. What an infant learns from our table, however, is going to be different than what their grandmother learns. The infant gets to feel the soft earth on their fingertips, gets to grasp pebbles and tickle their nose with the rosemary. A teenager tries to recreate a Robert Smithson earthwork in miniature and learns to take a proper cutting from a plant. A mom takes mental notes for home. My intent is to create a community of learners, even if they only stay at my table for five minutes.