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ArtGames Seeks to Attract Kids to Art

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The Albright Knox Art Gallery is breaking through the walls of traditional exhibiting. Last fall, the museum launched ArtGames, an innovative, interactive web site for kids. But making this bold educational project a reality was not all fun and games.

When you think of an art museum, what comes to mind? Most likely, you picture a grand marble building -- where people are standing in silent reflection, studying great works of art -- which are, of course, hung in their familiar places on the gallery wall. Well, the Albright Knox is shaking things up a bit.

Welcome to ArtGames - the Albright's interactive web site for children. Well, adults can visit too. "Artie" seems happy to show anyone around.

"Artie is the star character, and he is your guide through the site," says Jennifer Bayles, curator for special projects at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. It was Bayles who came up with the idea for Artgames -- and its tour guide Artie. Bayles says, that in just a short time, this Gumby-like, red and blue character, has become quite popular.

"Artie actually gets a certain amount of e-mail, and most of it is very positive - sometimes suggestions for things we might add, or changes we could make," said Bayles. "Artie even got an e-mail in code, and fortunately I...uh, Artie was able to crack the code."

Bayles, and of course, her friend Artie take us for a walk through this colorful -- anything but -- stationary world.

"As you move through you go into Artie's house, or into Artie's studio. From the house you can visit our games gallery where you look at works in the gallery's collection, and play games that teach you something about that painting and the artist who made it."

Bayles says the idea isn't to drag kids away from the real museum. The goal is to inspire deeper interest.

"I think that kids, if you can get them into a museum, you don't need technology to get them excited about works of art," said Bayles. "There are ways to engage them in looking actively at paintings that is almost easier than it is with an adult. But we've found that in a learning environment -- in schools, in libraries -- that computers and technology have begun to take over some of the ways that people, of all ages, access information."

So, the Albright decide to tap into some of those new ways. The artgames web site offers children a variety of ways to explore art -- from learning about art history and technique to experimenting with their own virtual painting and sculpture. But this multi-dimensional site also adds another important element -- the human dimension. High school students from the Riverside Institute of Technology have been engaged as partners in the project. The young adult artists study the gallery's works, draw reproductions, then design story boards for the web site. Bayles says the technology is part of the gallery's educational outreach.

"These students then are very closely working with their art teacher, with the educators at the Albright Knox, and end up having a very rich educational experience," said Bayles. "We then add them to our web site as our art partners, you can find them and see their reproduction drawings,if you click onto that part of the site. And we plan this year to finally add one of their artgames to the web site."

Bayles says Artgames is still a work in progress. She says when the concept unfolded about two years ago, they had no idea how complicated it would be to launch the web site. Bayles says they've had to work out everything from technical kinks to legal kinks. She says just getting copy right clearances to post the Albright's own artwork on the site turned out to be a major hurdle.

"Because what we were trying to do was so new and different, there was no way we could say, oh, we're going to make a web site like such and such," said Bayles. "So, each copy right request had to come with very elaborate descriptions of what the game we were planning would be, and what it would look like, and how we would work with the object. So, it took tremendous amounts of time just dealing with the legal aspects of the site."

And Bayles says they expect that the battle will be ongoing. She is undetered, however. After all, Bayles says Artgames was only born after a great deal of persuasion.

Despite all the benefits of the web site, Bayles says ArtGames wan't an easy idea to sell to those with a more traditional art perspective. And she says the debate continues.

"There's still a great deal of discussion in the field as a whole about the relationship between virtual learning and looking at art, versus coming into the museum," said Bayles. "But I just don't think that there's anyway, in this day and age, that you can't not be connected to people through the internet. Otherwise, museums are just going to get left behind."

If you, or a favorite young person, would like to visit the Albright Knox's virtual children's gallery, just log onto ArtGames.