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How Art Fairs Can Boost Art Appreciation in Kids

These summer staples aren't just for artsy adults. From kid craft areas to exposure to new media and chats with artists, children learn plenty in the tents.

Southeast Michigan is packed with art fairs in spring and summer. Sometimes they're paired with carnivals and other family activities. But did you know all those paintings, sculptures and found-object creations on display can actually be a natural, even fun, way to build a little art appreciation in kids – not to mention jumpstart their creativity?

Why art matters

Art is really everywhere, explain organizers of the local Ann Arbor Art Fairs – a collective of four big award-winning fests that visits Tree Town every July.

"Because children are affected by thousands of visual images daily – on TV, the Internet, billboards and magazines – it is important for kids (and adults) to learn about important artists that have made an impact on American culture," the fair notes in a press release.

At a deeper level, it adds, art can teach kids valuable non-verbal communication, focus, accountability and collaboration skills. That's why you're starting to hear more about "STEAM" focus in education (that's STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – with art mixed in).

Luckily, no matter how much art is in your kids' class curricula, parents can boost the process with a little patience and know-how.

Smart art fair tips

Art fairs are great spots for big-time art exposure. Part of the experience is seeing what draws your child. Engaging kids is also key – getting them to reflect, question and make connections – to ensure it's not a chore for either of you!

While you're browsing the wares in the tents, the Ann Arbor Art Fairs has a few suggestions for sparking kids' creativity.

  • Do some digging. Find out about the displayed artists' work before visiting. Browse the website of the fair, or maybe even just Google specific media, like painting or drawing – or sculpture, mixed media or jewelry. What catches your kid's eye? Try to find it while you're at the fair.
  • What's going on? Resist the urge to jump in and point things out. While looking at art, ask kids to "tell the story they see," the AAAF notes.
  • Critique. Here's the fun part. Ask kids for their opinion. What do they like? Dislike? Why? Art is personal and subjective. This gets them thinking about their own personal tastes, style and how they might like to express themselves.
  • Note it. Bring a small, colorful notebook along. If they're inspired, kids might scribble their own simple doodles or art. Or they can jot down things they notice about the art, artists, visitors and setting.
  • Watch the work. Beyond selling their wares, many artists perform demonstrations, whether it's pottery or carving or weaving. Don't be shy: Step right up and watch the creators at work. It can be spellbinding for parents, too!
  • Make stuff. Many fairs also offer kid activity/craft zones, where they can make creations of their own. Provide a little gentle guidance if they need it, but again, let kids loose a bit. "Mistakes" and experimenting are all part of the creative process.

And, when something catches your kid's eye, encourage them to ask the artist a few questions. Many are passionate about their crafts and eager to share – especially with younger creatives. The AAAF suggests asking:

  • How long have you been a working artist?
  • What's your educational background in this art? (Were they mentored/trained, or maybe even self-taught?)
  • What inspires you? How do you figure out your subject matter?
  • What's your studio/sketching process like?
  • Why do you choose art shows vs. a gallery or museum?

Keeping the art going

Use some of what you've experienced at an art fair to spark conversation later at home. Sometimes, it can even naturally translate into kids getting fired up and begging for a trip to Michaels or your local craft or art store.

However things evolve, AAAF notes parents should, again, be subjective and pay attention to their child's art creations. Offer "judgment-free" compliments about things you notice, too – like, "Look at all the colors of the rainbow you used!" vs. "What pretty colors!"

"Your child is offering you a window into their life through their art," AAAF adds. "Don't just throw it away – study it, ask questions and appreciate their work."

And watch for your child's cues, adds Tylonn J. Sawyer, youth program producer at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Parents should seek to understand the art their child likes, he notes – and learn as much about it as possible.

"Look at the bigger picture and what they are interested in," he says. "Sometimes, it's not like going to the museum and just seeing a painting," but asking, for instance, "How does relate back to the video they like?"

Give the other opportunities to explore those loves, too. MOCAD, for instance, hosts monthly workshops for kids and teens to create and display artwork.

"Whatever a child is interested in, seek out places that have that thing and really engage," Sawyer says.

Be sure to browse the Metro Parent calendar, too, for plenty of art shows and activities in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

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