New York Times: Global Art Fairs Extend a Welcome to Children

LONDON — Philip Hewat-Jaboor, chairman of the Masterpiece London Art Fair, can pinpoint the exact moment when he first became interested in art and objets d’art.

When he was a young boy in the early 1960s, he said, his grandfather Sir Alfred Aykroyd, who was a serious collector of both Chinese ceramics and British sporting paintings, showed him “a 17th-century tou ts’ai enameled beaker, which is about two inches high.” It was, at that time, “one of the most valuable bits of porcelain you could have.”

Sir Alfred let his grandson handle the red, green and yellow piece painted with four dragon medallions with sprays of lotus emerging from their mouths and foliage. He explained the glazes as the child turned it over in his hands, feeling its heft.

“That was the only moment when he melted, when he started talking about his collection,” Mr. Hewat-Jaboor said. “That got me hooked.”

That experience not only led Mr. Hewat-Jaboor to a lifelong love of collecting — he worked for several years at Sotheby’s before starting his own art advisory business — but also reinforced in him the importance of getting children exposed to and interested in art at a young age.

Masterpiece is doing its part. The fair has hired the consultants Oppidan Education to help create workshops for children ages 4 to 14 as well as talks about the lives of artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Salvador Dalí. Children will also have the opportunity to make their own pieces of art, and there will be half-hour tours of the fair for visitors ages 6 to 13 as part of the activities for Family Day on June 30.

“Education is incredibly important and part of the ethos of our fair,” Mr. Hewat-Jaboor said. “We have a sort of duty to do this, apart from the fact that this is tremendous fun and tremendously exciting to see people of any age group, particularly young ones, get thrilled and interested in something they may not have looked at before.”

Other art fairs, biennales and triennales across the globe are also offering more programming geared toward young people.

The Artissima art fair in Turin, Italy, in November introduced the Artissima Junior program, in which children designed a tapestry with Alek O, the Argentine artist. The program was a success, and the fair plans to expand it this year.

At the recent Art Basel fair in Switzerland, there were not only tours of the Unlimited section of the fair specifically for children but also a Young Artists Studio section, where young people could experience everything from making their own geometric figures to discovering color with the Brazilian artist Inés Lombardi.

The Aichi Triennale in Japan, which will open Aug. 1, will include a program where artists will work with young people in schools across the region to build a cardboard playground that will later be installed within one of the Triennale’s sites.

The Venice Biennale has a sizable number of activities for children including thematic workshops on subjects like the role art plays in nature, technology and philosophy.

Since taking over her role in 2009 as the director of the Istanbul Biennial (opening Sept. 14), Bige Orer has focused a lot of attention on programming for children, including publishing in 2015 a history of the Biennial geared toward them. This year, with the event’s theme, the “Seventh Continent” of plastic waste, the focus of much of the children’s programming will be on the role between art and ecology.

“It is really important to create a space for children for creativity and discovery and to use it for raising awareness about art and the world around them,” Ms. Orer said. “They are the future generations of our society, so either they will become makers of art or they will become the audience of art.”

For Ilaria Bonacossa, the director of Artissima, the idea to inaugurate a children’s program last year — in collaboration with Turin’s soccer team, Juventus, which brought players to the fair — grew out of the fact that many parents brought their kids in previous years but many galleries gave off a “don’t touch” vibe that did not make young people feel very welcome.

“It was the biggest surprise, because everyone at the fair in the beginning were saying ‘we don’t want it close to us’ and ‘it’s going to be a madhouse,’ but in the meantime it was the quietest corner of the fair with the kids super-engaged and concentrated,” Ms. Bonacossa said. “The artist loved it, the work that came out was beautiful, people from the fair were coming to look, and the kids enjoyed it a lot.”

Daiya Aida, the curator of the learning section for the Aichi Triennale, said that the function of art was to make the invisible visible and that children’s minds had different ways of unlocking and thinking about wider concepts brought out in artworks.

And, he said, “I think that art also needs children.”