Chinese street festival to fill the Clark


Thursday June 21, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer knows first hand the bond Clark Art Family days help families establish around art.

Tulgan Ostheimer, who grew up in the Berkshires, had often been to the Clark on her own, but it wasn't until a family day, about 15 years ago, that she and her husband decided to attend with their children.

"I thought (family days) were so magnificent. I wrote Michael Conforti and said -- ‘wow,' " she recalled.

Now, 15 years after her first family day experience, she has spent 12 years on the museum staff as the Clark's head of education programs, as the Clark prepares its most elaborate Family Day event yet: a Chinese street festival.

The Clark grounds will transform with sights and sounds from China, with a dragon parade, live traditional Chinese music, Chi nese folk dances, a performance of the Peking opera "Monkey King Runs Amok in the Hea vens," and Chinese stories performed by award-winning storyteller Motoko Dworkin.

The festival coincides with the museums' two summer exhibitions, "Unearthed: Recent Arch aeological Discoveries from Northern China" in the Clark's main galleries, and "Through Shên-kan: Sterling Clark in China" at Stone Hill Center.

"I think that it can be intimidating, the idea of bringing children to an art museum," Tulgan Ostheimer said. "As a parent, you might be thinking it is a nice idea, but... And that is why we do these family days."

Summer family day is the education departments' largest single-day event, and it typically draws between 3,000 and 5,000 people, Tulgan Ostheimer said. On this day, admission to the galleries is free.

"We have fun brainstorming crazy ideas and then hone in on what makes sense and what is valuable to the community -- highlighting the exhibition and giving children, and adults, an experience they wouldn't otherwise have in Berkshire County," she said.

For previous family days, the Clark has had a camel meander the grounds, hauled in tons of sand and water to create a temporary beach, and held an authentic sumo wrestler match. It seems there will be no shortage of spectacular this year, either.

Tulgan Ostheimer explained the wide array of activities at the Chinese festival, including fortune telling, climbing the "Great Wall of China," meeting a live water buffalo and learning to eat with chopsticks, for those hoping to finally master the art of those traditional Asian dining implements.

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Most booth activities and services are free, though some have a small fee; refreshments, including Asian-themed street foods and traditional Chinese candy, will be available for purchase.

"Through Shên-kan," presented in the Clark's Stone Hill Center galleries, tells the story of Sterling Clark's 1908-9 expedition to Northern China. The images of the Chinese photographer Li Ju accompanies Through Shên-kan and illustrates what has changed and what remains the same over the past 100 years.

"Unearthed," presented in the Clark's main galleries, showcases recently excavated antiquities from three separate ancient tombs in China's Shanxi and Gansu provinces. At the exhibitions' core is a 5th-century stone sarcophagus -- transported from China and painstakingly reassembled at the Clark -- in the form of a traditional Chinese house, measuring nearly 8 feet by 12 feet and weighing more than 10 tons.

At family day, along with learning to write Chinese characters and making necklaces with Chinese zodiac-animal beads, children can make their very own a mingqi, which are traditional Chinese funerary sculptures, using clay, straws, feathers, shells, and other materials.

The education staff thoughtfully discussed how to make the subject of death and the afterlife accessible to children, Tul gan Ostheimer said. The result, she said is a guide book that explores and explains how the exhibition's objects coincide with Chinese beliefs about death and the afterlife.

Tulgan Ostheimer hopes parents and children will take the opportunity to explore and discuss art with each other.

"There is almost no right or wrong when you are talking about art," she said. "When you're looking at art, it is a reflection of human experience. So you are talking about real things. It can be casually poignant and satisfying."

What: Chinese festival and family day

When: Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m.

Where: Clark Art Insititute, 225 South St., Williamstown

Admission: Free. Most booth activities and services are also free, though some have a small fee.


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