As a millennial, I grew up with educational computer games and television programmes, learning problem solving from Putt Putt, Egyptian history from Carmen Sandiego and visual art from this one peculiar computer game that I can no longer remember the title of. It featured a talking lizard that would visit famous Impressionist artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet. Up till now, I still credit part of my life trajectory to that lizard. I ended up studying art history in university, and even though I was naturally inclined towards the arts from a tender age, that game gave me the confidence as a primary school kid to proclaim that my favorite painter was Van Gogh, even though most of my peers had no idea who that was. It was one of the many seeds planted in my early life that actually bloomed!
Edutainment has always kept up with technology, and what we’re seeing now is a proliferation of immersive experiences for children. The word immersive can mean a lot of things. It is an umbrella term which encompasses theatre, theme parks, multimedia installations, escape rooms and virtual or augmented reality. The unifying factor, what makes these things immersive, is the fact that they put the audience at the center of the experience, creating a world that surrounds them and occupies their attention and sensorium. While this idea isn’t new, technological advances have greatly enhanced immersion, spawning renewed interest and innovative new productions.
Most often than not, immersive experiences are also designed based on the needs and wants of the current generation. For our children growing up with unprecedented technological literacy, most of them would have to learn how to stand in front of a painting and appreciate it, versus the instinct of running across a projected animation to see if it responds to movement. The idea of motion-sensored art is assumed and it fits right into their understanding of the world. An example of this is the collective TeamLab, whose creations have been immensely popular among children.
© teamLab Borderless
That is not the say that traditional art forms are not worth the time anymore. In fact, you’ll probably find that a lot of art museums these days are starting to create programs and innovative exhibition designs to heighten sensory engagement with static art objects. While doing so, they are also realizing the need to cater their programs specifically to children, accounting for different age groups and accessibility levels.
In countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan or Australia, art festivals for children have already been developed for years and is quickly catching on in smaller first-world countries like Singapore. In Singapore, you’ll find periodic events such as Imaginique: Singapore’s Children Festival, focusing on live theatre and music for those aged 0-12, and the Children’s Biennale organized by National Gallery Singapore, focusing on art installations that inspire creativity and imagination. For something permanent, check out The Artground, a free interactive visual arts space (think playground meets art installation), where they also incubate art performances and workshops, serving as a thought leader in the field of children-specific art experiences.
Photo: The Artground
Although a lot of these programs do not outwardly market themselves as immersive, art that has been designed specifically for children are almost always immersive in nature. Artists who put children at the center of their work will find themselves leaning towards the formats that children respond to best. When I compare my 90s computer game and look at what’s available now, I feel so excited for children these days. All these seeds have been specifically crafted for them and I’m sure some will bloom in time!
Written by Melinda Lauw