Tailor-made: The Program for Children, Youth, and Families at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

Since its founding, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle has offered an extensive educational program, especially for children and youth. The aim is not only to kindle the young visitors’ enthusiasm for contemporary art, but also to promote their creativity. Now tours and workshops for refugees have been added.
“Time is always,” exclaims Murat – almost a philosophical answer to the question of what time actually is. The seven-year-old is one of about a dozen first and second graders from the Schöneberg district of Berlin who have come for a guided tour at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. Expectantly, they are sitting on the floor of the first exhibition room, where Elisabeth Klotz will familiarize them with works by Basim Magdy. First, the art historian shows them a portrait photo of the Egyptian artist. “That’s very important for children in particular,” she explains. She has given guided tours and workshops for schoolchildren and kindergarten groups for almost twenty years. “They always want to know what the person behind the artworks looks like.” The portrait is part of the “discovery case” in which different things are put for each exhibition. This time it contains slides, which often play an important role in Basim Magdy’s work. In the age of digital photography, very few children know what slides are. And color transparencies, which can be used to immerse the world in pink or green, just like in Magdy’s film and photographic works. The objects in the case help the tour guide illustrate the themes of the exhibition.

Prior to each show, the KunstHalle team develops an educational program that addresses the special themes of the respective exhibition. In the case of Basim Magdy, these subjects are “nature” and “animals,” as well as “text” and “time.” Thus the discovery case also contains letters, an hourglass, and a tree disc. The tours and workshops deal with the past and the future, with what the participants think the world will be like in 100 years, and with the question of how an abstract term like “time” can be represented visually. The offer for the different exhibitions ranges from workshops lasting one or more days and vacation programs in which children and youth paint or draw, or make collages and comics, to writing and photography workshops. Together the participants also develop performance and dance pieces, shoot documentary or animated films. The workshops are led by experts – artists, filmmakers, photographers.

For each show, the KunstHalle works together with other institutions – the film museum, Hamburger Bahnhof, and initiatives such as “Germany – Land of Ideas.” It has recourse to a growing network. This time it is cooperating with the Botanical Garden. Here the students explore how time becomes visible in nature and the meaning of tree rings. A special highlight is a writing workshop held in German and English in which Basim Magdy’s works inspire the participants to write stories. It is led by the art historian Filipa Ramos and the author Ingo Niermann, who caused a sensation in 2010 with his novel Deutscher Sohn (German Son) and who is currently represented at the Berlin Biennale with a video work. Together with Ramos and Niermann, the six- to seven-year-old participants write texts that are later published on the KunstHalle’s website.

Many of the schoolchildren from Schöneberg who are immersing themselves in Basim Magdy’s pictorial worlds today have been to the KunstHalle before. “We were also at Pollock Jackson,” says Lotte. She probably confused the order of the artist’s name because her idol is Michael Jackson, but she is very certain of one thing: “There was a really big picture and it was really great.” The children are also thrilled by Magdy’s collaged drawings with their bright colors and motifs such as spaceships, astronauts, and giant lobsters. And one of their favorites is a painting of two death’s heads.

Elisabeth Klotz repeatedly asks what exactly they see in the works – what kind of eyes are shining out of the dark cave, or what the meaning of the lonely astronaut might be. She wants to sharpen the children’s perception and encourage them to verbalize what they see and feel. “Children are often much more impartial when they talk about art,” she says. “Unlike adults, they are not afraid of making mistakes. And sometimes they poignantly sum up a work in a very simple way.” At the end of the tour, the students become creative themselves, making their own drawings and collages inspired by the exhibition. In today’s groups, time machines and spaceships are among the most popular motifs, and a relative of Magdy’s giant lobster sees the light of the world.

With its extensive educational work, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle continues the activities of the Deutsche Guggenheim, which played a pioneering role in this area since its founding in 1997 in Berlin. Creating access to art and promoting creativity are the most important aims of the offers, which are always tailored specifically to the different target groups. The educational program is in great demand: Up to three groups a day visit the KunstHalle from Tuesday to Friday. Approximately 8.000 children and youth take part in the tours and workshops each year.

There is special cooperation with some schools. Students from the KreativitätsGrundschule, an elementary school in Friedrichshain, and the Berlin Metropolitan School attend every exhibition. The tours for the latter, the largest international school in Berlin Mitte, take place in English. Students at the Hector-Peterson school in Kreuzberg have done work in the context of the Basim Magdy show for six months. In addition, the KunstHalle offers regular tours tailored to the blind with touching models and to the deaf and hearing impaired in sign language.

A new offer in the program are tours for refugees, for which the KunstHalle cooperates with Culture for Refugees, and refugee initiative of the CAA (Contemporary Art Alliance), and AWO. Together they developed special tours of the exhibition – for example, specifically for men, as well as women’s groups. There are also offers for welcoming classes. Here all kinds of students encounter one another: young refugees from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan learn together with children from Italy and Spain whose parents moved to Berlin because of the better job opportunities there.

“Of course, in these tours and workshops we cannot rely on language nearly as much,” explains Emanuele Valariano, who has worked for months with the welcoming classes. “Instead, we work with gestures and signs, with facial expressions and body language. If it’s about feelings, I can put my hand on my heart, and if it’s about memory or contemplation, I point my fingers at my head. Very simple, universally intelligible gestures. You have to use them all to keep their attention.” And Emanuele Valariano has also learned some words in Arabic and Farsi which he throws out when the opportunity arises.

Welcoming classes are very challenging. The students come from all kinds of cultural and social backgrounds and have very different prerequisites. While the offers for these children and youth follow a certain dramaturgy, they require a lot more improvisational talent than conventional tours. But it is well worth the effort. Emanuele Valariano is thrilled about the enthusiasm of the children in the welcoming classes, their joy when they learn new words or go home with pictures they have painted themselves. “It may sound cliché, but it really is great to see how these children, some of whom have experienced terrible things, go home from our workshops with a smile in their eyes.”

Art inspires the children and young people to exchange views about what moves them, about their lives in a new society. The most important means to participate in a society is the ability to express yourself and to understand others. Thus language teaching is at the center of the program for welcoming classes. At the end, all participants receive a drawing set with lead and colored pencils, crayons, erasers, pencil sharpeners, and a sketchbook.

Achim Drucks

Information on the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle’s educational program can be found here.