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Learning with the Lite-Brite

Who here had a Lite-Brite when they were kids? Nope, not me! It was the one toy that I remember asking for over consecutive birthdays and Christmases that I never received. And now, many many years later, I still want a Lite-Brite. Lucky for me, I work at the IMA and we have a 7 x 5 foot Lite-Brite in our Star Studio! Though it was built with 3 to 6-year-olds in mind, you might just find me hanging with the little ones creating colorful compositions using neon acrylic pegs.

Image from:

Image from:

But why does the IMA have a giant Lite-Brite at all? Well, it turns out that there are many educational components, beginning with imaginative play. As many early childhood studies have shown, play-based learning enhances the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development in early childhood. And … BONUS … play is an ideal opportunity for grow- ups to engage with their children. The purpose of the Lite-Brite, first made by Hasbro in 1967, is to create images using colored pegs. But Hasbro was not the first to come up with the concept of making pictures using colored dots. The term “pointillism” first came about in the 1880s, when artists like Georges Seurat began to make large-scale paintings using small colored dots of paint. The IMA has a couple of good examples of pointillism — Georges Seurat’s The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe, and Alfred William Finch’s The Road to Nieuport.

But it turns out that the concept of pointillism has been around even longer. Think mosaics. The earliest known mosaics have been dated to 3000 BC! And mosaics use colored stone, glass, shells or the like to create large, and sometimes quite elaborate, works of art.

lite_brite_07_loAnd in the 21st century, dots are everywhere! You are reading this on your computer or some other sort of digital device that produces words, pictures and graphics using pixels. Pixels are just little colored dots of light that, when arranged in a particular order, make an image. Which brings us back to the Lite-Brite … now ready for play and learning in the Star Studio on Floor 2.

Filed under: Art, Education


Art Packs: Portable, Interactive Arts Activities for Young Museum Visitors

Today’s guest blogger is by Rachel Wendte, an intern in the IMA’s Development Department.

Children are immersive. When they color a picture, for example, only the most disciplined will keep their colors inside the lines. The truly passionate artist will extend their colors to the edge of the page, onto the table, and all over their hands and arms. In everything they do, children look to be active participants; experiencing the artistic process in the most intuitive way possible.

Now imagine one of those little artists, full of their own passion, curiosity, and creativity, and taking them to the IMA. Everywhere they look their eyes land on items they want to investigate further. The questions start flowing, “How did the painter make those colors?” “What’s that made of?” “How did the artist put all of those pieces together?”


You would like to help, to encourage discovery, but despite your best intentions, another phrase slips from your mouth instead: “Don’t touch.”

Don’t touch. That phrase may be one of the quickest ways to deter an inquisitive mind. Dejected, your little one may spend the rest of the visit silently viewing the art on display, wishing there was something they could do to connect to the art without damaging it. To not only see, but to engage with art on a level that speaks to their imagination.

For every budding creative out there, for every art detective, and for every child who desires to experience art on their terms, the IMA would like to offer our inaugural Art Packs program.

Launching this summer, the Art Packs program will be a way for children visiting the IMA to experience works of art through structured activities that enable them to create for themselves while priceless art is preserved. Every Art Pack will contain materials centered on a theme such as line, shape, color, or pattern. All the items in each Pack will work with the theme to generate activities that correspond to particular objects in the IMA’s collection.

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Filed under: Audience Engagement, Education, Guest Bloggers


A Space for Play

Design rendering for Star Studio.

Design rendering for Star Studio.

I imagine the next week will feel very much like the countdown for a NASA space shuttle mission.  “T-7 days and counting.   Activate all personnel.  Review discussed layout.  Load in tables, chairs, and art supplies.  Backup and review tech systems.  Complete preliminary security and housekeeping inspections.  T-0.  Unlock the doors.”  Admittedly, this is both exciting and terrifying.  After nearly a year of planning and preparation, Star Studio will reopen to the public on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11 am sharp with a very different vibe.

And so the story goes, on a cloudy day in March, a team of museum educators drafted a dreamy vision statement based on results gleaned from the 2012 IMA Family Study: “Inspired by the IMA’s collection, its resources, and related aspects of the visual arts, programs and activities in Star Studio encourage families to imagine, explore, create, share, and collaborate with art in new ways.”  We asked both members and non-members to test activities based on these five overarching themes during a set of focus groups.

In each section, adults are provided with the tools to teach fundamental art concepts such as color, line, shape, and texture, to children under the age of twelve in fun and innovative ways.  In the first section, Imagine, visitors are invited to think creatively about the art-making process.  Rules, instructions, and templates are absent.  Visitors are encouraged to create art from a set of traditional and non-traditional media, including paint, drawing materials, and clay, but also twist ties, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts.  The second section, Explore, includes a tactile table designed to stimulate the senses, promote creativity, and assist in the development of fine motor skills.  For the third experience, visitors are invited to Create.  They can use the iPad Free Draw Station to create their own works of art. Upon completion, visitors may email their drawings to themselves, friends, and family.  Another activity in this section invites young visitors to engage in imaginary play. By donning a construction hat and pretending to be construction workers kids help build R. Indiana City using an assortment of building blocks.  Share allows visitors to write or draw responses to a phrase on a large-scale chalkboard wall.  Additionally, Share includes an interactive photo booth, giving visitors the opportunity to capture images of the works they created, which are also projected on a wall.  And lastly, Collaborate encourages participants to socialize with other patrons by working together on a community art project.

Bonus!  A series of facilitated programs are now offered in the classroom on Wednesdays and weekends. For more information, please check out our calendar.

Filed under: Audience Engagement, Education


ArtBabble: Back and Bigger than Ever

Today is the big day – the day we relaunch ArtBabble to the world. After six months of surveying, planning and designing and one wild 24 hour #babblesprint, I couldn’t be happier to share the fruits of our labor with our loyal followers. I hope you love the changes as much as we do.

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Filed under: Art, Design, Education, New Media


Collections Alive: The Changing State of the Dutton Collection

Our guest blogger today is Amanda Qualls, volunteer in the Audience Engagement department.

The Dutton Collection, so named because it was once housed in the Jane S. Dutton Educational Resource Center (JSDERC), has undergone many changes in the past several decades. It has been moved, merged, and re-purposed many times, and it is undergoing one of those changes currently. The Dutton Collection is today comprised of individual artifacts, which are authentic or reproduction items not considered to be of museum quality, and other teaching materials. Items in the collection exemplify Asian, Oceanic, African, American, and European art and artifacts. The collection is strongest in African art, which comprises over 50% of the items.

Dutton items were originally collected, stored, and administered by staff in the Education Department at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The collection consisted of both individual objects and museum kits, which contained objects, books, lesson plans, and other items supporting a theme. These items were available for loan both within and outside of the museum. In parallel with the items for loan by the Education Department, a slide library existed from 1970 onward. The slide library initially loaned slides to staff and the public, and eventually expanded to collect and lend teaching packets.

In order to check out items from the Education Department in the years before 1997, staff or patrons made an appointment to accompany an employee to the collection storage area, which was in a non-public section of the museum. The slide library was also lending items, but was located in a public area of the museum and had defined open hours.

Having these two lending programs running parallel was inefficient, and by 1994 the leaders of the Education Department identified the need to consolidate the programs. In 1996 they were able to secure funding for a new lending resources center from Jane and Ben Dutton. Jane Dutton was a 5th and 6th grade teacher, a Sustaining Life Trustee of the IMA, and a longtime member of the museum’s volunteer organization. The following year, the Jane S. Dutton Educational Resource Center opened to the public offering all objects available for loan in one location.

In February 2009, the Dutton Center was closed due to declining use and the overall economic climate. Items were redistributed and relocated. Slides, VHS, DVDs, and some other materials were absorbed into the Stout Reference Library, while the artifacts and teaching items in the Collection were taken over by the Audience Engagement Department (the new name for Education – the original holders of the material). The Dutton Collection artifacts are currently in a storage area in the staff only section of the museum. These artifacts are currently undergoing reorganization, inventory, and proposals for future use. Many of the Dutton Collection artifacts can be regularly seen on Hold It carts operated by Docent facilitators during scheduled tours and Community Days. New uses and possibilities for the items are forthcoming – more on this in the coming weeks!

The history of the Dutton Center was partially adapted from Joan M. Benedetti’s 2007 book Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press), in which Jane Ferger, then Visual Resources Librarian of JSDERC, wrote a chapter on the Dutton Center.

Filed under: Education


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