Art in Action

Visit these cultural institutions and museums where visitors can observe artwork as it's being created.
By: Matt Villano

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Typically museum visitors only have the opportunity to admire art after it's completed. Sometimes, however, cultural institutions and museums sponsor live events where visitors can observe artwork as it's being created. These demonstrations provide wonderful insight into how the artists work their crafts. Here are 5 of our favorite experiences from across the country.


Saxman Native Village
In the Pacific Northwest, members of the Tlingit Native American tribe have been carving totem poles for thousands of years. Now, inside the Village Carving Center at Saxman Native Village near Ketchikan, AK, visitors can watch master carvers at work. The center is essentially one long house -- perfect for carvers to work on 2 totems at a time. Visitors walk in on the far side of the working area and watch carvers at work. In most cases, the carvers work silently; carving is considered a ritualistic act. Sometimes, though, carvers such as the legendary Nathan Jackson will interact with guests and explain what they're carving (a bear, an eagle, a killer whale) and why. 

Museum of Glass
From an architectural perspective, the metal cone at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA, is an iconic design feature that has become synonymous with the city's recent urban renewal. Inside the cone, however, is where glass blowing comes to life. The inimitable structure houses the museum's "Hot Shop," a studio where glass blowers work all day long. Visitors can stop by (except during lunch, from 1 to 2 p.m.) to sit in the amphitheatre and watch blowers create functional art including chalices, cups, vases and pitchers. Periodically one of the artists steps to a podium to field questions and explain exactly what's going on. 

Kentucky Artisan Center
Known as the "Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky," the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea, KY, hosts free live demonstrations every Saturday throughout the year. During these events, artisans create objects such as thrown vases, woven mats and watercolor paintings. As they create these objects, the artists usually explain the process, walking visitors through it step-by-step. Sometimes visitors are given hands-on opportunities to see what working with clay or another medium is really like. Even when a demonstration is not in progress, there are several opportunities to learn about the creative process through exhibits and special activities. Events also include readings and book signings by Kentucky authors, cooking demonstrations and informal music performances. 

The Getty Center
As part of the "Artist at Work" program at The Getty Center in Los Angeles, visitors are treated to regular live demonstrations by artists who work in a variety of media. These events are scheduled throughout the year, and they're always free. They also usually correspond to one of the exhibits in The Getty Center and The Getty Villa. Demonstrations have included printmaking materials and techniques with a focus on etching and engraving. 

Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum
Lightship baskets are wooden splint baskets unique to the island of Nantucket, and during daily demonstrations at the local Lightship Basket Museum, artists show off the process of making these detailed vessels firsthand. Watch as master basket-weavers turn finely hewn maple, cherry, oak and ash into usable baskets. As they weave, the artists talk visitors through every step, often explaining the historical significance (lightships essentially were seafaring lighthouses, and basket-making was a way to pass the time). Visitors can purchase baskets in the museum gift shop. 

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