Are the Kids All Right?
By Pamela Wong
How do you bring your child to an art museum without too much frustration for yourself and without disturbing other visitors? As in many countries, parents in Japan often forgo the opportunity to visit museums in order to stay home and take care of their children—or leave the children at home with a caretaker. But what if this is not an option? And shouldn’t museums be places that welcome all members of the public, whether they are parents or not?
The artist collective Chim↑Pom’s member Ellie—a first-time parent—experienced the obstacles of being a new mother with a child when she needed to breastfeed her baby at Tokyo Opera Art Gallery last year. After finding the facilities to be inadequate for her needs, the group rallied together and came up with the idea of running a nursery center in concurrence with their upcoming museum survey “Happy Spring,” scheduled to open at the Mori Art Museum on February 18.
Beyond offering parents a place to leave to their children, Chim↑Pom made the project integral to the exhibition itself. Named “Crying Museum,” the nursery center will supply the sound of children’s crying—as well as laughing or shouting—to Chim↑Pom’s exhibition. In their artist statement, Ellie explained how most parents feel embarrassed when their kids cry in museums or elsewhere in public places. The project seeks to normalize “the crying sounds of the museum,” and to recognize that “it is okay if the children cry.” As Chim↑Pom wants us acknowledge: “Every being in the world from you and me to the insects and trees is first born as a baby.”
Realizing this project however hasn't been a straightforward process. For the first time, Chim↑Pom is sourcing funds for the project through online crowdfunding, with a goal to reach a total of JPY 8 million (USD 70,000) in order to open the childcare center six days a week. If they cannot reach this goal, they are looking for at least JPY 4 million (USD 34,670), so the center can run for at least three days a week. At the time of writing, the campaign has collected over JPY 1 million (USD 8,600) online after its launch on January 15. The funds will be primarily used to cover childcare services, event management, crowdfunding fees, and facility management and operation.
Crowdfunding contributors can each receive an original coloring book of drawings created by Chim↑Pom and join a coloring contest, where each participant can submit one colored drawing and have the chance to win two free tickets to the exhibition. The jury includes artist Makoto Aida, designer Kosuke Kawamura, and manga artist Akiko Higashimura.
Currently only a few public museums, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, house nursery centers with limited opening hours. The nursery center at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, in Ishikawa prefecture, is a rare example, which opens throughout the week. Even though most museums welcome kids and parents at the entrance, and some have specifically curated shows for children, the quiet atmosphere as well as the stern gazes from the security guards can make the experience nervous and exhausting for the families.
“Happy Spring” will be Chim↑Pom’s first retrospective, which will showcase a new video installation, as well as the group’s earliest projects such as “Thank You Celeb Project I’m BOKAN” (2007), which features Ellie defusing the landmines in Cambodia, and Making the Sky of Hiroshima “PIKA!” (2009), which memorializes the Hiroshima nuclear bombings. While Chim↑Pom’s artworks might not be the most accessible for children, the convention-defying collective is at least making the museum a more kid- and adult-friendly place.
“Happy Spring” opens on February 18 at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, and runs through May 29.