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Arts and Enrichment

Off the Beaten Path

Teaching Children to Embrace Culture Through Local Programs

November 01, 2010
"You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself." –Galileo

As human beings, we often seek comfort in an identity, a label or mental picture personified. We look to our family, our hobbies and interests to help define who we are and where we are going. Discovering the lives of those who've walked before us can enrich our lives and help us understand more about ourselves.

Indianapolis is rich in culture

The tried and true venues for hands-on education are rich in cultural programs and Indiana heritage. The Indiana State Museum offers several exhibits that delve deep into Indiana's history, as does the Eiteljorg Museum and Conner Prairie.

"[At the Indiana State Museum], families enjoy our collection of Ice Age animal bones that tower high on our first floor gallery. Included with that, they also gravitate to our hands-on Naturalist Lab where everything is touchable and natural history based. Test yourself on what a fossil is, try your voice at animal calling or get a chance to touch and feel natural history specimens," said Joanna Hahn, manager of arts and culture programs. "On the second floor, parents and grandparents will get a kick out of our pop culture walls which will take them back in time to when they were younger. They enjoy showing their children what was hip and popular during their childhood. Children enjoy interacting with the pioneer chores and learning all about famous Hoosiers, too."

At the Eiteljorg Museum, Martha L. Hill, Ph.D., vice president for public programs and visitor experience, offers suggestions for guests to get the most out of the exhibits and artwork.

"Parents and grandparents can come to the museum with their children and grandchildren, experience the Western family gallery, check out the Western and contemporary art galleries and Native American galleries.

When it becomes too cumbersome to study up on what you'll be seeing at a museum, the Eiteljorg has several tools to help families learn together.

"We have audio tours with stops designed especially for families. We have a family adventure guide which can be accessed via our website before visiting or at the admissions desk. We have a special treasure hunt designed to help families look closely at cultural objects in our Native American galleries. Every day we have volunteers staffing hands-on activity carts and we offer special guided tours of the galleries on Saturday and Sunday," said Hill.

Awe and appreciation

In my visits to museums, I always leave with a great appreciation for the arts. I leave thankful of the advances in technology our culture has. I am reminded after visiting history museums, that we are living longer, happier lives because of advances in medicine and do not have to experience constant death of loved ones and children as those who lived at the turn of the century. Conner Prairie, an award-winning living history museum, helps bring that culture to life.

Conner Prairie is home to the Follow the North Star program, which is a nationally-acclaimed, award-winning program that allows guests, for a few hours, to become a fugitive slave on the Underground Railroad. It is a powerful, interactive glance at a period in time in Indiana that affects guests in a way that a book or movie cannot.

During the program, small groups of participants take on the roles of fugitive slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad, risking everything for freedom. Every moment is filled with uncertainty. Playing the role of a fugitive slave, participants encounter an illegal slave sale and a variety of characters like a belligerent Southerner, a reluctantly helpful farm wife, a former fugitive headed south to try to rescue family, a Quaker family and a free black family. Through authentic interaction with costumed characters, participants learn to depend on one another.

"Follow the North Star immerses guests in a tumultuous period in time in Indiana history. Years of research have made to this an authentic journey for guests, both physically and emotionally; one that more than 50,000 guests have experienced," said Michelle Evans, guest experience manager.

Follow the North Star is not for everyone. This program takes place outdoors in all weather conditions, and participants walk approximately one mile on rough terrain. The emotional effect of the program is intense, as participants are treated as slaves, being told to keep their eyes down and not to speak unless spoken to. Because of the nature of the experience, participants must be 12 years or older.

Exploring the culture around us, our own Hoosier heritage, as well as those who walked before us, will help us become a well-rounded civilization by painting ourselves with a broad brush filled with history, culture and heritage rich in wisdom and knowledge.

America is truly a melting pot of cultures and history, which makes it all the more adventurous for families to embrace one true sense of their history. As part Native American, one can become fascinated with how the tribe they are descended from lived and what it means to us today.

"One of our goals at the Eiteljorg is to help our visitors understand that there is not just one Native American culture; there are many different Native American cultures and these cultures are both historic and contemporary, thriving today throughout the country," said Hill. "I think it [applying Native American history to life today] helps people become more aware of, and better understand cultural diversity and how important it is to embrace the strengths this diversity brings to our daily lives in our community, our state and our county.

Nikki Keever is a freelance writer, wife and mother of three living in Noblesville, Indiana.

Save the date for cultural experiences

Indiana State Museum December 1 – 31 That Hoosier Music exhibit. This exhibit includes countless popular songs that have been written or performed by Hoosiers. Stop and listen as you explore the "Banks of the Wabash," visit "Paradise City" and meet "Jack & Diane." Enjoy the music of Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter or Michael Jackson and learn just how many musical genres are influenced by our great state.

Also, at the Indiana State Museum, Celebration Crossing has become a tradition for many families in Indiana to visit during the holiday season. Santa and Mrs. Claus will visit with children in their cozy home through December 24. Visitors will enjoy riding on the Santa Claus Express train and making crafts to take home, while adults gaze into the recreated L.S. Ayers store windows and reminisce about days gone by. The original Santa Claus Express train will be on display for photos. The entire museum comes alive with holiday merriment, including bands and choirs in the Governor Frank O'Bannon Great Hall.

Las Posadas is on December 12th. This Mexican holiday tradition includes a procession along the canal from the Indiana History Center to the Eiteljorg Museum. The journey re-creates the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph's search for an inn. Following the procession, families enjoy food, drinks, piñatas, live music and visits to the galleries at the Eiteljorg.

The annual Indy International Festival is brought to you by AAA Hoosier Motor Club is central Indiana's largest and oldest pan-ethnic celebration. Hosted by the Nationalities Council of Indiana, the event showcases Indiana's ethnic diversity, celebrates our unique ethnic traditions, and encourages cultural exchange. The event runs November 18-21 with the 18th and part of the 19th reserved for school groups only. Kahn's Fine Wines & Spirits Beer & Wine Garden - Taste your way around the world thru beers & wines from across the globe! Taiko Drummers - The group Icho Daiko will perform brought to you by the Indiana Arts Commission. Giant Asia Map - The largest traveling map of the content Asia. Continuous ethnic music and dance by Local and national performing groups. Authentic foods from over 20 local ethnic food vendors. Cultural Exhibits from 50+ ethnic groups hosted by volunteers in traditional dress where you can connect with your own ethnic heritage. Artisans demonstrating unique cultural crafts. Naturalization Ceremony welcoming over 175 new American citizens on Friday. Friday Family FUN Night - Kids 12 and under FREE *5pm-9pm. International Marketplace offering gifts from around the world. Italian Street Painting - The floors of the Festival will be transformed into a color-splashed gallery of Italian Street art. Meet Nick Jr's DORA THE EXPLORER - Friday night 5-9, Saturday and Sunday! Tickets are $7 Adults $7.00 Advance;$9.00 At the door Children (6-12) $6.00 Flat rate. Advance tickets available by clicking here, Marsh Supermarkets, Kahn's Fine Wines or show your AAA Hoosier Motor Club Membership card at the door and receive $2 off the adult ticket at the door. For more information visit www.indyinternationalfestival.org.

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Tags: Enrichment, Home & Food, Local, News, Parenting

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