The Skirball Cultural Center: A Place for Journey & Discovery

Garin Hussenjian
Sep 30, 2016 · 4 min read

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Noah’s Ark — many details to explore! Photo courtesy of the Skirball Cultural Center

Mark is almost four. He loves karate, squeezing the cat, and playing with trains. This summer, he easily chose to give all that up for regular visits to the Skirball Cultural Center. His older sister, Mina, had told him it would be great, but now that he’s discovered the Skirball for himself, he asks for it regularly. Noah’s Ark was the exhibit that originally brought us to the Skirball, but the Archaeology Discovery Center and dig site, the Family Art Studio, and the Skirball’s special 2016 “Dugout” family lounge kept us coming back. With regular trips, we found out more about what the Skirball offers. Pack a lunch and set aside some time to enjoy a free film, listen to live music, or take walks in the gardens. As my family can attest, it’ll be worth it.

Mark in the Archaeological Discovery Center’s dig site

Since 1996, the Skirball Cultural Center has been welcoming guests of all ages to explore stories of cultural identity and personal narrative. Up to 80,000 students and their teachers from districts across Los Angeles County visit the Skirball each year. Tuesday through Friday mornings, the Center is bustling with school tour groups. Whether it’s children from Pre-K to second grades or students on grade-specific tours through high school, all ages receive specialized attention. Rosalie Tucker, Head of School & Teacher Programs, shares, “Education is one of the most important pillars of the Skirball. Our mission to welcome people to participate in cultural experiences starts with access.” She explains, “Schools that do not have a budget or the means for bussing to the Skirball can apply for bussing scholarships. In this way, the Skirball becomes a meeting place where students and teachers from across Southern California can engage in multi-sensory, values-based gallery tours and school performances.”

Rosalie Tucker, Head of School & Teacher Programs, in the Taper Courtyard

Busy weekdays lead into even busier weekends. When visiting the Skirball, the first place you may think of is Noah’s Ark, an unparalleled exhibit of hands-on learning and fun. Tucker believes in “teaching through storytelling.” Noah’s Ark creates that environment where storytelling can be used as a teaching method and “allows for an open space where interpretation, discovery, and inquiry can guide learning.” Tucker continues, “The Skirball is a family destination and a place where the youngest child can experience wonder with a parent or grandparent.”

This past summer, “The Dugout” was a baseball themed, hybrid space where you could relax, make arts & crafts, and play games. Inspired by the Skirball’s temporary exhibitions on baseball this spring/summer, it was one of our new spots. Mina loved the crafting table, while Mark changed into a baseball uniform and took his turn striking his best batter pose. Both kids fell in love with the magnetic baseball wall, where you spin the wheel to “play ball.” And we all took turns lounging on the bean bag chairs, that are so relaxing it’s hard to leave.

Taking a hand at baseball in the Dugout

The Family Amphitheater Performances musical series, showcasing talent across a broad spectrum of Los Angeles cultures, was our go-to summer weekend activity. As an Armenian-Angeleno, I was looking forward to the performance by String Harmonies in late August. Their blend of modern and traditional Armenian songs was energetic and soulful. It warmed my heart to see not only my children loving the music, but also a cross-cultural crowd enjoying it as well.

The musical programming, which is a large part of the summer line-up, is developed by Jen Maxcy, Head of Family Programs and Community Engagement. Maxcy takes cues from families and children to help plan out the programming. “Music that is interactive, welcoming of families, and gets kids and adults dancing is the most inviting for the Skirball.” Maxcy explains, “My goal is to present fare for all ages and create spaces where adults and children can relax and rest, explore and play.” Maxcy’s work was seamlessly realized as we sat back in the amphitheater to enjoy the show.

Jen Maxcy, Head of Family Programs and Community Engagement. Photo courtesy of LinkedIn.

With mid-week movie screenings and summer weekend musical performances, the Skirball calendar will keep you busy. The Family Art Studio — which is open on weekends throughout the year and daily during school breaks — is a perfect place to unwind and create a memorable piece of art and the Toddler Tuesday Sing-Along is a great way to get your little ones engaged. As I discovered, you’re bound to find the perfect educational activity you’re looking for. Along the journey, you’ll be amazed by things you didn’t expect. The Skirball presents cultural art in such a way that it creates a permissive and open space where families, spanning across generations, find things to learn and love. As Maxcy concludes, “The goal is to create programs and spaces that welcome families of all backgrounds, and through creativity and multi-sensory engagement, offer relaxed spaces to learn and connect with each other.” That’s it exactly.

Garin Hussenjian

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Writing about art, performance & culture in Los Angeles. Always adding to the interview series, *People in Arts — A Look Behind the Scenes.