By Elana Spivack
Last Saturday, Sept. 6, the Gund Gallery practiced what its current exhibit “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art” preaches by hosting storytime for kids. The event featured readings from children’s picture books and a sing-along to promote “Feast,” which opened in July and was previously curated at the Smart Museum in Chicago.
Meg Evans, administrative assistant to the Gund Gallery, asked the group of toddlers if they knew what hospitality was and described to her young audience how the art in the exhibit represents food and hospitality, and how it was a reflection of the artists’ viewpoints. “When this artist thinks of hospitality, he thinks of ice cream,” she said, gesturing to an illustration of a refrigerator topped with empty ceramic bowls running with browns and pinks.
Julia Warga, who works in Library Services, read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, which tells of a town that receives all its food from the weather. She then read Stone Soup by Marcia Brown, a book that explains how three hungry soldiers dupe stingy townspeople into making them an enormous feast. Playing into the theme of hospitality, Evans was able to show the children just what being hospitable meant by contrasting the residents of Cloudy’s fictional town of “Chewandswallow” with the selfish peasants in Stone Soup.
Between stories, performer and all-ages music teacher Rebecca Abbott led a sing-along that celebrated cooking and the children’s favorite foods. She also played sound recordings of people cooking, allowing them to think about cooking in a new way. The children guessed which sounds were of somebody chopping vegetables and which were of water boiling.
The Gallery’s family-oriented storytime is a fairly new program. Evans noted that it began last February when they read the children’s book Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill in honor of a piece the Gallery exhibited by the book’s namesake potter, Dave. “[Curator of Academic Programs] Natasha Ritsma kind of came up with that idea,” Evans said. “We were able to turn that into a monthly thing.”
Ritsma said in an email that storytime has “brought in more young families from Gambier and Mount Vernon to the Gund Gallery.”
“Our next two storytimes will also be focused on themes connected to the Feast exhibition,” she wrote. To complement storytime, the Gallery sponsors an activity-based Family Day at least once a semester that relates to the current exhibit. On Saturday, Oct. 18, families will be invited to participate in activities including painting using vegetables as painting tools. Residents of the Kenyon Farm will also bring goats and chickens in to teach guests how animals eat.
Storytime at the Gallery has attracted more attention recently and has started bringing in a younger audience to the more grown-uporiented Gallery. Brandon Warga, Helpline desk manager and Julia’s husband, brought their son to the event. “I think it’s a creative way to bring more people in the community into the Gallery,” he said. “The fact that it’s not just storytime for the sake of storytime but the fact that they’ve tied them to the exhibits is a clever tie-in with the pieces that they have there. … It’s good for them and good for us to bring more people into the Gallery. There aren’t many opportunities on campus for events like this.”