IO KAM Art You Can Touch

The 'Art You Can Touch' section is a part of Krannert Art Museum's Giertz Education Center.

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For nearly three decades, the Giertz Education Center at Krannert Art Museum was a lending library of art resources for classroom teachers across the state. Established in partnership with the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, the center was named for and supported by Fred and Donna Giertz.

Though teachers loved the Education Center, it wasn’t designed to engage museum visitors. During the past decade as smart classrooms have emerged, the needs of our teachers have changed. Education Director Anne Sautman decided the time was right to think differently about the center, experiment with new programs and think of fresh ways to bring the public into contact with the teaching collection.

Because they might not be able to get to the museum easily, older adults in memory care facilities such as Amber Glen Memory Care and Circle of Friends Adult Day Care were the first to benefit from this new approach. KAM’s dedicated volunteer docents began bringing art replicas and posters to them through outreach programs designed to enrich lives through art’s power to prompt memories and generate ideas. This senior outreach has been very well received and continues to grow.

Inside the museum, we know that engaging all the senses has tremendous capacity to provoke the imagination. But it can be a real challenge to go beyond sight when creating art exhibitions. In KAM galleries, visitors know that the art we see should not be touched. But teaching collections can help us do something we haven’t before!

KAM educators started to use touchable objects in our celebrated elementary school program Krannert Art Museum Week at the Museum (KAM-WAM). The response was inspiring, so we decided to share those experiences of learning through touch with everyone who comes to the museum.

The Giertz Education Center is now an open, interactive space with “Art You Can Touch” on the lower level. By making it larger, more visible and encouraging all our visitors to interact with its holdings through touch, sound, and sight, the Education Center is making new art experiences possible for visitors of all ages and abilities.

When you visit this new space — open anytime the museum is open — we encourage you to take objects off the shelves and explore with them. Pedestals from past exhibitions are there so you can imagine your own exhibitions, even writing your own labels, to let the next visitors learn about your vision.

Museums can be a little daunting for families with young children, but in the new Education Center, the reaction has been great — and sometimes unexpected! Not only do we find kids and families experimenting with “Art You Can Touch,” but all kinds of visitors handle the objects, create sounds with musical instruments, unroll scrolls, feel textures and write notes about posters hanging on the walls.

So, on your next visit, please come check out the interactive space downstairs! “Art You Can Touch” awaits you at Krannert Art Museum.

Jon L. Seydl is the director at Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois.