Step right up on Saturday to the Dunedin Fine Art Center for Kids' Art Fest 2011, the free grand reopening of its David L. Mason Children's Art Museum and a day of circus-themed entertainment on the grounds surrounding it.
The hands-on museum for toddlers to preteens opens "Under the Big Top" in its new 2,000-square-foot space with activities designed by youth education director Todd Still. Panels of bright blue fabric are draped to suggest a tent under which the centerpiece, a red locomotive made from wood, sits. Its cars are tables loaded with coloring materials and stamps, the paper dispensed from the mouths of circus animals modeled in plaster.
Many of the activities are computer-related. A green screen lets kids become part of various circus scenarios that are broadcast on screens throughout the room. They can create their own stop-motion video at another station. Enter a black-light area through a giant cheetah's mouth and create a glow-in-the-dark drawing. Tyrone the Terrible, a gorilla on a huge vintage circus poster suspended from the ceiling, presides over the whole show
The children's museum is part of a $1.9 million renovation and expansion that reconfigures existing space and adds new ones, including a bright yellow gallery dedicated to art created by children in the center's arts programs, expanded clay studios for adults and kids and a large multipurpose room with large windows overlooking the nearby lake that can be used for classes, educational programs and events.
Two new art exhibitions, organized by the center's curator, Catherine Bergmann, also open over the weekend. "SideShow" is a collection of circus-inspired contemporary art, including a number suggesting side show banners. "Believe It or Not?" is also a group show with fantastical works such as South African artist Jennifer Maestre's exquisite sculptures made from pencils (that's right) and the ceramic musical instruments of Eckerd College professor Brian Ransom.
All this whiz-bang activity is exciting, but underpinning it is the art center's core mission of community-based art education and appreciation. Even in this difficult economy, enrollment in year-round classes has risen about 15 percent from 2006 to 2010, said Ken Hannon, the center's associate executive director, to an all-time high of 2,646 in 2010, plus another 1,500 in its summer camp.
Two separate donations in recent years totaling more than $2 million have allowed it to grow to accommodate demand for its programs, which cover most media. Ceramics classes, for example, were not offered to adults because there wasn't space. Now there are studios for both adults and kids. The darkroom has been enlarged so more students can learn traditional photographic methods "as an entry point to our digital classes," Hannon said.
This is all good news and good reason to celebrate a community success story.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.