On Monday I had the chance to interview Olivia Edlund she is the Education and Outreach Manager for the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. If you don’t already know that place, I have written an article about it here, and if you live around Philly you have to go.
The interview was really interesting because Magic Gardens is a non-profit organization dedicated to one artist, who is still alive and involved in their projects. So How is it organized ? How do you use such a unusual space ? How do you preserve it ?
Here is a transcript of the answers she gave me.
What type of audiences do you get at Magic Gardens ?
Mostly youngs adults from 18-20 to 30-34. So our programs are adapted to these audiences but we try as much as we can to have projects and actions for others, like Seniors and Families. Schools are a hugepart of activity at Magic Gardens, their actions go from pre-school to college students.
So let’s talk about schools, what type of projects do you realize with them ?
For example there is the “Tile and Grout : Bonding Community” project which is an outreach program. This one is pretty intensive, an educator from Magic Gardens go to the school to do a presentation, lessons at the school, then guided tours at the Magic Gardens, Q&A with the artist. The goal is to create a mural inspired by Isaiah Zagar at the school or the organization.
These type of projects can be very long from 1 month to 6 months depending on the size of the mural.
I am guessing that you use pedagogical materials with the schools could you talk to me about it ?
We try to keep the prices for the guided tours affordable so schools can come visit us and do something with us, like a “hands-on activity”. (the group can learn how to make tiles).
We have materials that the teachers can use at the schools, like lessons plans which are available on our website. (Gaudi Glasswork, Visionary artists, … you can check them here).
And finally we created “A scavenger hunt” for groups to add a twist to the visit, this activity is also available for families.
Isaiah Zagar seems to be involved in the actions with schools ? How does that work ?
He interacts with the schools during the Q&A, he also does special projects, and any group can add a 30 minutes Q&A with him at the end of a tour.
Isaiah Zagar with a group during a Q&A
source : http://www.phillymagicgardens.org/
It seems that you have a lot of activities with groups, schools and children. We all know the difficulty to keep children and generally all visitors from touching the artwork, how do you preserve the space ?
Well it is a unique place which was not built to stay, it was not intended for it to survive that long. We are trying to preserve it as much as we can everyday. It is hard because it is a fragile environment with so many different materials involved.
We have done a few changes in order to preserve it. We understand that visitors are tempted to touch the art, in the beginning it was allowed to do it, but if we want to keep it for many more decades we have to ask the visitors not to touch it anymore.
For example visitors used to leave notes in the bottles inside the garden. Which is an amazing idea and we wanted to keep that, but without hurting that artwork, some of the bottles were starting to get loose. So we set up a place inside the gallery where visitors can leave notes for the artist and put them in bottles that way we keep the intention, the message and we preserve the space.
We have also ideas for the future on how to incorporate the idea of touching the artwork but without hurting the space, that is something we are working on.
My next question is actually for you, what did you study ?
I (Olivia) studied Communication and I alwayd had a strong interest in art and teaching. So I decided to do a Master’s Degree at the University of Arts in Philadelphia in Museum Studies with a specialty in Museum Education.
And finally, how did you arrive at Magic Gardens ?
During my college years I was a garden guide and then I found a postition in another organization. When the Education postition openned at Magic Gardens, the team thought about me and called me.
I feel like people study in Philadelphia and manage to find jobs in Arts and Culture in the city, isn’t it ?
Actually yes if you are patient you can find a position, the seven people in my class in my master’s degree are actually all still here in Philly.
Thank you Olivia for answering my questions !
I think it is an amazing opportunity to work on a space like Magic Gardens and to have the artist involved in it. One thing that struck me was the “Lessons Plans” that you can download on the website and use in your classroom. I encourage you to go check them out because they are quite welldone.