I Love You, Rosario Marquardt and Roberto Behar, sculpture, installation, 10’ x 44’ x 44"
Young At Art Children’s Museum, 2012
'Labor of Love' Inspires Young At Art Museum to New HeightsBy Julie Levin
From its modest beginnings in a small storefront to the contemporary and innovative permanent building that it now calls home, Mindy Shrago always envisioned the Young At Art Museum as a place where art and learning meshed together like a paintbrush to canvas. "We always wanted anyone who visited us to be inspired and feel that they can imagine, create and be anything they want to be through art," said Shrago, co-founder and executive director of Young At Art.
After 22 years, that mission is accelerating now that Young At Art has found a permanent home in Broward County. The art-themed museum, located at 751 S.W. 121 Ave. in Davie, opened in its new location in May and is quickly proving to be a nationwide model for arts-based education. The new museum made its debut alongside Broward County's newest library, thanks to a groundbreaking public/private partnership with Broward County.
Loaded with vibrant interactive exhibits and displays, Young At Art is designed to be a unique community gathering place that bridges the gap between adult-oriented art museums and those specifically designed to appeal to children. “By inspiring families to experience art together in meaningful ways, we are developing a new generation of tomorrow's patrons, advocates and supporters of arts-based education,” said Shrago.
The new 55,000-square-foot children's museum offers four permanent, themed galleries for guests to explore. There is GreenScapes, which encourages children to reconnect with nature by discovering the potential of art to call attention to environmental issues; CultureScapes, which brings new understanding of our culturally diverse world through the eyes and art of contemporary artists; WonderScapes, a world of imagery dedicated to childhood development through art, literacy and play; and ArtScapes, which provides a thematic journey through art history. The new facility is expected to serve 500,000 children and families each year. The permanent location is one Shrago says she always knew would come to fruition. The idea grew, like so many others, out of necessity. Shrago is a visual artist in her own right - her work is featured in the collections of the Andy Warhol Estate, the Smithsonian, the Norton Museum of Art, the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Mitchell Wolfson and Purdue University - and she wanted to foster that same creativity in her then 5-year old son. Finding a place where she could do that in South Florida was a bigger challenge than expected, and she felt the first stirrings of a plan. "I felt the arts are so integral to the growth of the whole child. I felt we really needed to do something in the community," she said.
So alongside her mother, Esther, a musician and arts patron, the two created a "museum without walls" in 1986 that traveled around South Florida. They engaged the community, going into schools and setting up art exhibits at community events. Her son's hand became the logo for the fledging project and surveys in the community showed residents were ready to embrace the vision of a children's art museum.
Their instincts proved spot on when, in 1989, a line of more than 2,000 people greeted them on grand opening day for the first ever Young At Art Museum. They opened in a donated 3,200-square-foot shopping center storefront in Plantation. Their three years of garnering community support had paid off. "By the times we opened in the museum, we had 350 family members that had already joined," Shrago said. There was a workshop and classroom area and a studio area that provided an in-depth look at a working art studio and the creative process.
"It was very much in keeping in who we still are in keeping with authenticity and focusing on the process as much as the product. We really wanted to bring up the level of what the focus was for kids," Shrago said.
That first year, 9,500 people visited Young At Art and organizers moved to incorporate what Shrago calls "their second piece," integrating the artistic vision with math, vocabulary, geography, language and multi-cultural understanding to further broaden their arts in education scope. In 1992, they incorporated environmental themes, setting up recycling exhibits and bringing in artists such as Pablo Cano and others who were creating sculptures from recycled materials. In 1992, they opened their first multicultural exhibition to support the Broward County Schools' Multicultural Infusion Program.
Shrago remembers they knew from the success of that first location they were on the right track and thoughts of opening a larger, permanent facility one day began to grow. In 1998, they moved into a 25,000-square-foot space in Davie, thanks to support from the community, including $500,000 raised from donors and funding from the Broward Cultural Division. "We knew again this was to be a temporary facility. We knew we would eventually build a permanent museum," recalled Shrago.
Shrago moved full-steam-ahead on what she calls "the glorious dream." In 2001, the Young At Art Museum launched a $21-million capital campaign known as “The Art Answer” to fund a new 55,000- square-foot museum. Shortly after, David Horvitz and Francie Bishop Good make the lead donor gift of $1 million to build the new museum and the project picked up new energy. National searches for exhibit designers and architectural firms were held and a symposium of leaders from prominent museums was organized to help better define the planned exhibits.
In 2006, another critical piece came together when Young At Art formed a partnership with Broward County to build the new museum and library. It was also when Margi Nothard of Fort Lauderdale-based Glavovic Studio in Fort Lauderdale came on board as project architect. Nothard said she and her team set out to create something timeless and accessible to all. "We really wanted to have a project that would be visionary and look to the future. We wanted to address the environment in a direct way and also have a sustainability that could address the imagination and creativity of children and families for the long term," said Nothard.
Inside, they created an exploration space that would pique curiosity for years. They shifted the ground plane to give the illusion of movement, instead of a flat floor surface. On the environmental front, they designed a museum which is now under consideration for Gold LEED-certification status by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Among its many features, deep overhangs and a butterfly roof capture rainwater into a 60,000-gallon cistern - leading to a reduction in potable water use. Each building material was carefully considered for its sustainability and environmental impact," Nothard said. "We wanted something that was unique to Florida and showed great respect for the environment.”
Since opening in May, Young At Art has become the region’s premier arts, culture and literary focal point. It is the only children’s museum in Florida and one of only six children's museums in the nation to have achieved accreditation from the American Association of Museums (AAM). Longtime member Maria Marquez has been bringing children Ana Maria, 10, and Maria Sofia, 6, to Young At Art for years. She says the enthusiastic and helpful nature of the staff is just one of the reasons her children can't get enough of the museum. "It's been six years and my girls still ask if they go every day. Every time they go, they find something new," she said.
Shrago is one of the area's most outspoken advocates on the subject of arts in education. Adding to an already impressive list of honors: The American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, honored Shrago as one of the 2012 Women of Vision for her decades of service in bringing art education to the children of South Florida.
The museum recently removed the word "Children's" from its title to make the facility more family-based. It created a new Teen Center and Recording Studio, which Shrago hopes will add yet another layer to her museum. The museum's growth over the years has also paralleled that of Shrago's family. Her son Zack, the 5-year-old whose creative interest helped spark Young At Art, is now a 29-year-old attorney who specializes in the arts. Daughter Ali, with whom Shrago was pregnant with when the first Young At Art opened, is a 23-year-old painter. Esther Shrago is 83 years old and recently retired.
Their combined labor of love has created a permanent museum, which Shrago says is "perfect and an incredible partnership." She describes Young At Art as a holistic, three-pronged approach to ushering in a new era of arts education.
"It is exhibit galleries, art studios and the library coalescing into a singular and enriching art space and learning experience," said Shrago."You are able to make art and get completely lost in the process and then find your way back through research or engaging activities in the exhibit areas."
To reach Young At Art, call 954-424-0085 or visit YoungAtArtMuseum.org.