June 21, 2007
The Skirball's new Noah's Ark exhibit encourages kids to explore universal values through the timeless biblical story
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Something for Everyone
Among the progressive thinking for Noah's Ark is the notion that informal learning can be most effective when adults are part of the activity, not simply chaperones.
The quirky animals, for example, make the space appealing for adults. There are also places to sit, and the elements are accessible from varying heights and vantage points. Many of the found objects embedded in the animals are antiques, inviting grandparents or parents to help kids understand what they are seeing.
And the idea of anchoring the exhibit in a story invites everyone to insert himself into the drama.
For Herscher, who was raised in pre-state Israel, the story of Noah evokes his own immigrant experience. The most emotional part of the exhibit for him is the load-in, a conveyor belt ramp operated by turning a wheel, that pulls pairs of foam animals -- which were hand-painted by children from the L.A.'s Best after school program --from the turbulence of the storm into the warmth of the ark.
"When I am able to turn that wheel and make a difference of taking animals who are trying to escape the storm, and having a hand in transporting them to safe harbor, I can translate that into millions and millions of children that I would like to have a part in transporting to safe harbor," he said.
It's a universal experience that goes beyond any single tale, and hearing other flood stories is part of the Noah's Ark experience.
Today on the ark, bells are ringing and drums are pounding, cuing kids to gather for story time. A trained staff member holds about 20 kids rapt as she tells of two Chinese orphans who are ridiculed by villagers when they are instructed by crows to take refuge in a giant gourd because of an impending tsunami. After she finishes, the children contribute their own stories of finding a safe place from somewhere scary, or of instances where adults thought they were making up stories.
In research and focus groups in the conception of Noah's Ark, Skirball staff discovered more than 400 ethnic flood stories, many of them represented in the gallery by the Cotsen collection of folk art arks that originally inspired Herscher.
The animals also symbolize the diversity that Skirball considers core to its mission. The 186 species, as well as the materials used to build them, come form all over the world. And curators are hoping Noah's Ark will attract just as wide an array of visitors, from all of Los Angeles' diverse cultures, as well as international visitors. To that end, the Skirball has invited kids from Para Los Ninos and L.A.'s Best to have regular, funded trips to Noah's Ark.
If ideas about diversity and improving the world are subtexts in the storm and ark section of the galleries, in the final room these connections are made explicit. There animals look back from the ark to a projected rainbow that appears, then disappears, out of a softly lit sky backdrop where birds signal the end of the storm and the beginning of hope.
The room is versatile, with crates and tables that can be set up for art projects, seed planting, or a drumming circle. Off to one side, pictures of kids are projected onto the wall, each accompanied by a promise to better the world.
Kids make the promises -- not to litter, to help the less fortunate, to save animals -- but their hopes for a better world are shared by all.
"All my life, I've attempted to find something that is common to all of us," Herscher said. "There is no human being on earth who does not look for a sense of safety, and there is no human being on earth who doesn't have an ingredient of hope that wishes to be reaffirmed."
Noah's Ark opens June 26 at the Skirball Cultural Center. Tickets are $10 (general), $7 (seniors and students), $5 (children 2-12). Admission is free on Thursdays. Due to high demand, check for availability or purchase advance tickets.
http://www.childrensmuseums.org (Association of Children's Museums)
http://www.ilinet.org (Institute for Learning Innovation)
http://www.zimmermuseum.org (Zimmer Children's Museum)
http://www.childrensmuseumla.org (Los Angeles Children's Museum)
http://www.oskaarchitects.com/ (Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects)
Previously in The Journal: 2006-03-30 The Skirball brings critters closer to the people at its new 'Noah's Ark'