Expanding Heard Museum offers kid-friendly make-and-take exhibit

Photo by Cassandra Tomei
Photo by Cassandra Tomei

The Heard Museum is to Southwest American Indian art and culture as a towering, many-armed saguaro is to its surroundings in the high Sonoran Desert.

Each is a home, artistic or literal, to a wonderfully diverse group of residents and visitors, that gives both nurturance and shelter to many. Each spreads its roots far and wide, providing a stable foundation and drawing in varied resources to benefit the greater community.

Each beautifully balances strength and timeless serenity, tradition and change, venerable age and continuing growth. But when it comes to shade, the Heard tops even the largest saguaro. It’s hard to imagine a cooler, lovelier place to spend a sun-baked summer day.

The museum’s latest expansion — more than 7,000 square feet of stunning, state-of-the-art adaptive space — is under way and should be complete by January. It will allow the presentation of much larger traveling exhibits from around the world, but it has forced the closure of two of the museum’s semipermanent family-friendly exhibits, “We Are! Arizona’s First People” and “Every Picture Tells a Story.”

To replace the loss, the museum developed a child-focused interactive family space in the Sandra Day O’Connor Gallery  that plays off of and expands on some of the themes found in the museum’s signature exhibit, “Home: Native People in the Southwest.”

“It’s Your Turn: A Home Studio,” open through Monday, Dec. 5, has six hands-on activities that enourage visitors to:

  • Examine a kid-size Apache saddlebag, then decorate a paper one for themselves.
  • Handle the raw materials — silver, jet, turquoise, coral, mother-of-pearl — used in Zuni jewelry, then color and cut out two traditional mosaic bracelets sturdy enough to wear.
  • Handle two styles of cradleboards — Apache and Navajo — and learn to wrap and secure a baby doll into them.
  • Make an O’otham calendar stick commemorating events in their lives using traditional symbols and a light table.
  • Examine Hopi butterfly and dragonfly pottery and use pipe cleaners to make insect replicas.
  • Color and construct a sturdy Navajo hogan out of paper.

To get the most out of these activities, visitors are encouraged to first explore the “Home” exhibit to become familiar with the sights and sounds of the many vibrant Southwest native cultures and arts, then visit “It’s Your Turn: A Home Studio.”

Besides the fun of making things to take home, “It’s Your Turn” promotes learning on several levels. The smaller, less-busy space focused on a few engaging interactives helps settle kids after the overwhelming richness and diversity of “Home,” and lets them concentrate on a few important ideas and items.

It also quietly underscores the concept of process and the importance of practicing spatial and tactile skills beyond scrolling and tapping.  Many children think that things — whether food, furniture, clothing, tech or toys — just appear, almost magically, at home or in stores. Here, they are reminded that things must be made, and that making things takes time, skill and effort.

In addition, the exhibit gently teaches young visitors that the unfortunately still-prevalent stereotype of a one-size-fits-all American Indian is false, by highlighting the number, wealth, and vibrancy of indigenous cultures. Native arts are not static. They are alive, growing and thriving, just like their people.

If you go: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. $18; $13.50 for seniors; $7.50 for ages 6-17 and students; free admission for age 5 and younger daily and to everyone from 6-10 p.m. on First Fridays. Admission includes daily guided tours at noon, 2 and 3 p.m. 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. 602-252-8840 or heard.org