October 20, 2003

Kids read and dream at Carlos Museum

By Michael Terrazas

Two hundred little people clad in red T-shirts stormed the Carlos Museum last Wednesday, Oct. 1, and it took a crowd of Emory deans and directors armed only with thin volumes of children’s books to keep them at bay.

“Around the World With Deans and Directors,” a project jointly sponsored by Reading is Fundamental (RIF) and Atlanta Public Schools Head Start, brought together students from area day care centers, preschools and elementary schools for a morning designed to broaden their horizons and expose them to a wide world available to them through museums—and reading.

By 10:30 a.m., the Carlos Reception Hall was filled with 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds, eager to explore the museum’s galleries and be treated to readings of children’s literature by about a dozen Emory administrators.

By 10:45, Emory College Dean Bobby Paul was holding court in the museum’s Gallery of Asian Art, about to read I Once Was a Monkey: Stories the Buddha Told to a group of 22 eager young minds.

“Good morning,” Paul greeted his Lilliputian audience. “My name is Bobby.”

The event was born at the suggestion of Neil Shulman, associate professor of medicine, who had emceed a similar event for RIF and suggested bringing the kids to Emory as a way to expose them to educational resources like the Carlos—and to promote the University in the wider community. RIF’s Jody Goldfarb and the Carlos’ Elizabeth Hornor, director of education programs, put together the program.

“It’s really good therapy for the deans because they’ve got a tough job, and there’s nothing more soothing than curious 4-year-olds—they’re a lot more soothing than faculty members,” Shulman said. “Second, it’s a connection between Emory and the city; there’s such a divide there, and nobody wants it to be that way. It’s just a matter of a little initial effort, and I’m sure this will continue as an Emory tradition.”

The crowd of roughly 200 children was divided into groups of 22, each chaperoned by adults from their respective schools and Carlos docents—“The one thing we don’t do here,” an adult voice was heard saying as its owner led a group through the galleries, “is touch.”—who guided the groups through the museum collections to hear several different stories, each relevant to the particular gallery in which the story was led.

Sitting amongst works from ancient Greece, University Secretary Gary Hauk regaled his listeners with a story about the Greek god Hermes. In the Gallery of Sub-Saharan African Art, Vice Provost and Director of University Libraries Linda Matthews read Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky, a Nigerian folk tale.

Most of the kids—all but a handful wore the telltale red shirts—were enrolled in Sheltering Arms, Atlanta’s oldest early childhood and development and family-support program. Founded in 1888, Sheltering Arms encompasses 16 centers throughout metro Atlanta, serving some 3,400 children each year. As they left, the children carried home goodie bags that each contained an RIF-supplied book and a free-admission pass to return to the Carlos with their families.

“A museum, like a very good book, is a place to dream and a place to travel,” Carlos Director Bonnie Speed told the kids before she launched into The Great Kapok Tree, a story about rainforests, in the Ancient American Gallery. “So I hope you look at all the wonderful art in our galleries, because a museum is a place to dream. And I hope you bring your families back here to dream some more.”