Learning through art. Interview with Camila Villaruel (Fundación PROA)
Pía Dalesson

Art has a transforming capacity. Many of us who work in this environment understand it this way, and we continually seek ways to go “further” with actions, thought, debates, and projects. Fort this reason; we met virtually with Camila Villaruel, General Coordinator of the Education department of Fundación Proa. The recent launch of the  Families at Distance Program inaugurated with the first edition of the  Virtual teaching kit “Creamundos” invites us to discuss some important issues related to Children and Art in this particular moment of history.

Pía Dalesson: How has virtuality changed your work? You are used to working in direct contact with the museum visitors and the Family and Community Groups. What tools did you take into account when assembling the Virtual Kits for the Remote Programm for Families?  

Camila Villarruel: Like all of us, this pandemic situation took us by surprise. From the beginning, we understood that it was important to take the time to reflect on this new reality and look for those tools that would allow us to meet our public again. Our team decided to start articulating the educational program with “Create worlds,” the next in line exhibition that we had to suspend. This first kit focuses in the work of Louis Bourgeois, one of the artists who will be part of the exhibition.

Within our audience, we have an established group of families that grows every year. So, it seemed crucial to us to know how the community was coping and if they would be interested in the program’s content. Before we assembled the kits, we had a prior instance where we consulted our community of families. We send a survey via email. The kit idea turned out to be one of the chosen proposals, together with a workshop via Zoom and the creation of the Gallery of Worlds, a shared virtual space.

We had to rethink how to face this moment, and we had to take into account as many types of visitors as possible. For example, it is common to see in the La Boca neighborhood children alone wandering around and entering the museum. We try to set them up with someone from our staff and encourage them to do our educational activities with other children or to invite their family members to do them as well. We also have many families that visit us from different places, and they are keen to use our Teaching Bag. In a pre-pandemic context, the relationship between activities and face-to-face space is significant.

A positive aspect of virtuality is that we are expanding; we intend to promote our content federally. Today, any family in the country can download the kit for free and be part of our proposals.

The kit’s first activity consists of working with a familiar space from memory: a room, our house, etc. The idea is to “inhabit” those spaces using different materials. The kit proposes several chained activities organized by thematic blocks to do “at any time and pace.”

“The Creamundos are people who use our Imagination to discover, with the eyes of an artist, what surrounds us. Surely, you have come across a Creamundos or perhaps you are.

How many Creamundos are there in your house? ——————-

Imagination helps us see differently everything we thought we knew. Using my imagination I discovered wonderful stories about my house, full of colors, textures, smells, and objects of all kinds. “

(Creamundos Learning Kit, Louise Bourgeois)

PD: At first, I confess I thought Louis Bourgeois, the artist selected for the kit was going to be difficult for the children. From the French name, the colors, the spiders (her most well-known work is Mamán, a large-scale sculpture made of bronze, stainless steel, and marble). However, when I started turning the pages with my 6-year-old daughter, it worked. Guiding her, we began to build a room with paper. We glue, trim, and paint.

The story we created, which spoke of our own family, led us through an assemble project where we draw beds, a desk, a closet (with the details of her shoes, dresses, and crowns) we even cut up the gap for doors and windows. The most exciting thing about this activity was that it made us talk to different people in our family who inhabited that space, but we haven’t seen for a while due to the quarantine lockdown.

CV: I think this is great because one of the main objectives of the kit was to generate a dialogue instance with family members and friends. And use the family term in a broad sense. The intergenerational dialogue is something we seek to promote.

The different ramifications of the project are what make it attractive. Creating these dialogues is more challenging that understanding the work itself and the themes that the artist addresses.

Over the years, I have understood that any work and any artist can work for children in the right way. In this case, it was very interesting in this particular context, to be able to work with the “shared distance” and reach a more in-depth dialogue built together between adult and child.

PD: I think this is an important point. Because from my perspective of a mother, I wondered, how it is different for parents to propose an artistic activity when today there are a lot of tasks and projects coming from kindergarten or school.

CV: Sure, this activity aims to encourage a joint dialogue. The idea is that you can play “the game for the game itself.” You can imagine and create using the artist and her work. For me, and the entire education team at the museum, the different dialogues that open up between adults and children during these activities are the main driving force. We are not focusing only on the children. And we work on this matter on many levels. For example, since the script is written in the plural, the adults are invited to participate in that experience.

It is also essential that the wording is not very cryptic. For this, we worked with the figure of an associate Educator; these different voices within the work team are of utmost importance for the script. It all comes together in the design instance, where all the story that we thought and built as a team is translated in the most direct and playful way. 

PD: What would be the approach or the right way as parents to use the kit? I’m thinking of parents who may not be familiar with visual arts themselves or who are also tired of everyday tasks.

CV: An approach through play would be the most appropriate. We also encourage you to search in that activity for a space for dialogue, as we mentioned before.

PD: Children have a natural tendency to express; they play through colors and have an attraction for textures. Why does Art matter today? How does it differ in its specificity from other practices? (sports, cooking, etc.)

CV: We work with Education through Art, a pedagogy that considers the creative potential as a fundamental element of a child’s development. Creativity is everywhere. It is also true that when you cook, you are also creating; Art is not different. Still, I believe that by experiencing multiple artistic disciplines, we are encouraging critical thinking, a critical way of seeing the world. That gives you a curiosity that makes you ask more and more questions.

These ideas are essential for personal and community development. We firmly believe that you can develop emotional intelligence from Learning through Art, and this can also help you respond positively to any circumstance of life. It will give you tools for tomorrow, and you will be able to resolve emotional conflict creatively.

Working with art has a lot to do with it. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. For example, when I was young, my mom took me to the theater, and It was then when I discovered grand cultural events. You cant focus solely on visual art; you have to embrace any type of art. This will helps you develop higher perception and creativity. I think the creative factor is going to be essential to get out of this moment.

(PD: Again, we are talking about the Family.)

The contact and understanding of the universe of artists and their productions can have a significant impact on children. As Louis Bourgeois says on paper, “ART IS A GUARANTY OF SANITY.”  Yes, Art saves. This, is a key idea that cuts through all of our work.  We will continue to show examples of how art has a positive effect on what we do and in doing so, we invite everyone to join in. 

Creamundos Educational Kit from the Families at Distance Program to play with the brilliant artist Louise Bourgeois. (Suggested age: from 6 years and younger with the help of an adult.)

Project Coordination: Camila Villarruel

Associate Educators: Cora Papic. Sonia Gugolj

© All images belong to Fundación Proa.

Cultivating creativity in children through art