New York — Discover. Create. Enjoy! These are the theme verbs for Kaleidoscope, a multimedia art experience that well over a million youngsters around the country have now seen, heard, and felt.
Kaleidoscope was conceived by Donald J. Hall, president of Hallmark Cards. After looking at the mountains of discarded scraps left over from manufacturing processes, he saw possibilities for further use. He reckoned that children could enjoy these scraps of beautiful colored papers, cardboards, foils, felts, ribbons, yarns, cords, tassels, and sticks if they had the opportunity.
Mr. Hall wanted not only to make materials available to children but to fund the sort of program that would expose them to creative ideas and then let them make projects themselves, with plenty of encouragement and no questions asked.
A creative team devised the first participatory traveling creative art experience that, between 1969 and 1973, reached half a million children in 150 cities. In January 1975 Mr. Hall gave Kaleidoscope a permanent home at Crown Center in Kansas City. Over 60,000 children flocked in during its first year of operation to enjoy the 90-minute experience and to emerge with something they had made themselves.
By popular demand, Mr. Hall this year added a portable version called Kaleidoscope USA. It now travels around the country in two specially designed 45-foot trailers that fold out and pop up to accommodate displays, work space, and streams of young visitors.
Rachael Chambers, a former public school art teacher who is now director of both the permanent and traveling Kaleidoscopes, says the two are reaching about 10,000 children a month. Both versions have Discovery Rooms to remind children that there are many forms of art, including music and writing as well as painting and sculpture. Here children can stop at 12 different stations. Activities vary, from playing a steel drum to composing a song at a musical computer, to viewing themselves in an imagination box to see how they might look if they were, for instance. Charlie Brown. In Kansas City there are more than 50 percussion instruments, including 25 brass hand bells, drums, cymbals, thumb pianos, and wood blocks waiting to be played by youngsters.
In the creative art studio, children have at least seven choices of activities, including jigsaw puzzles, collages, paintings, masks, puppets, yarn jewelry, and mobiles. Each child takes home what he makes.
"Our job here," explains Miss Chambers, "is to convince children that art is fun and for them, and that each one can be an artist in his own right. We don't criticize. Whatever they do is all right, and we insist there is no wrong way of doing things. This frees children to give vent to their own creative bents."
The latter comment also explains why the exhibits are for children only. Parents can only peep in from the outside. "Grown-ups try to help children and in doing so, they often tend to stifle their creativity," says Miss Chambers. "We think our no-parnt policy is a good one."
Children enter the displays through a game park of giant sculptured animals that they can touch. They travel at one point through a tickle tunnel, then emerge, at the end of the art experience, from a Sense of Wonder Gallery filled with butterflies, shells, rocks, and insects, where art in nature can be observed.
Children find the experience a great adventure, a big game to be played accompanied by delighted squeals, laughs, and chatter. Kathy, age 8, wrote after her visit, "I cannot draw good but I made a colorful decoration and it made me feel good." Patty, age 7, said, "I like Kaleidoscope very much. It gives people imaginability." mark, age 9, remarked, "I never knew I was so creative. I love it, too." "I'd live here until I was a million billion years old," a first-grade boy was overheard saying as he left. "I'd even kiss a girl just to get back in."
"The faces of those children, beaming, so pleased and proud of themselves, is a continual reward to me," says Rachael Chambers. "That's what keeps me running."
Educators and parents agree that the Kaleidoscope experience is special, since it supplements all classroom art instruction and stimulates active imaginations of children so they can create and explore art on their own.
Kaleidoscope has a long-term funding commitment from Hallmark. Miss Chambers now has a permanent staff of 14 people, although the traveling show also depends on local volunteer help in the cities where it stops. The mobile version has just played Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and will be in Waterbury, Conn., from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3. It will stay in the Allentown-Bethlehem, Pa., area from Sept. 10 -17, and in Cumberland, Md., from Sept. 24-Oct. 2. Stops later in the fall include Roanoke, Va., Bristol, Tenn.; Asheville, N.C.; and Columbia, S.C.
An 18-year-old volunteer who turned up recently in Alexandria, Va., said, "I want you to know that when you came to Washington, D.C., 11 years ago I went through. I looked for it every year after that because it was the most wonderful time I ever had. When I finally saw that you were coming back I decided to volunteer so I could help some other young boy to have the same experience I had."
Kaleidoscope has become one corporation's cntribution to children and to the art world. It also serves as a prototype for other groups and companies to study and to copy or adapt as they wish.