A Wonderful Weekend with Carmen Mensink

We were delighted to welcome Carmen Mensink, a gifted educator and artist based in Amsterdam, back to the museum this past weekend.  A practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism who has studied thangka painting extensively, Carmen has taught thangka painting classes in Europe and the States for over fifteen years.

Carmen Adult July 2014 ThangkaDuring the weekend, Carmen Mensink taught a range of exciting programs, including a Teen Art Lab session on how to draw the Buddha’s head, as well as three workshops for our general visitors inspired by themes found in the exhibition Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine.

Carmen drawing with students

T'Shawn with buddhaEach session included a discussion and sketching in the galleries, followed by art-making in our Education Center. The individual workshops explored the role of the Medicine Buddha, the Diagnostic Tree, and Protective amulets within the context of Tibetan Medicine.

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Carmen Adult July 2014 4Carmen Adult July 2014 talkingThank you, Carmen, for making Tibetan Buddhist art come alive through your passion, warmth, and insight into a beautiful and time-honored tradition. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum!

Learn more about Carmen:  http://www.tibetanthangkapainting.com/artist_intro.html


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What I Have Learned From the Rubin Museum

Writing this blog entry is quite bitter sweet for tomorrow will be my last day here at the Rubin Museum of Art.  Before I began my position here at the Rubin Museum of Art, my predecessor, before she left, had decided to express what she learned from her experience from museums.  Following her wonderful example, the time for me has come for reflection.

When I began here at the Rubin Museum, I had already worked in museums but I had always known this place was beautifully and uniquely different.  It wasn’t just the works of art that I was experiencing for the first time that gave me this feeling but the people and employees that make this museum what it is.  Over time I realized that being the Educational Resources Coordinator here, the finest resource the museum had (and still has for that matter) is its staff.  They are the people who assist you with a smile when you approach the front desk for a ticket.  They are the people who greet you by name when opening the museum when you are a regular.  They are the people who tirelessly travel all over the world to make sure the finest art and its interpretation are correct for all to experience. They are the people who fundraise for educational programs here at the museum for you to enjoy.    They are the people who time and again teach multiple classes a day without a days lunch.  All of these people have something in common, they care about this beautiful museum.

Reflecting on my own experience here, I can happily say that I am one of them and will always have a deep connection with this museum. But it was also this museum that helped me realize my love for teaching students on a regular basis.  It was this museum who helped me shape who I am today and helped me meet some of the most significant people in my life.  And because of that I am entirely grateful.  To all of the staff, past, present and future, I thank you for all of your work. So what did I learn from the Rubin Museum? I learned that with an incredible staff, stunning works of art and sheer dedication, you can create a place that promotes the importance of education, stimulates intellectual thought and creates an experience like no other.

I close with my favorite pictures of my time at the Rubin Museum.  Thank you again for a life changing three years!


Photo Booth for Allegory and Illusion.


Staff Bonding, 2011


Diwali, 2013

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Speaking to the Roosevelts for the exhibition Quentin Roosevelt’s China.

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Teaching, 2013

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Staff Connections: Nicole Leist, Assistant Manager of Adult & Academic Programs

Running a museum takes a whole team of professionals whose different skills help make the Rubin Museum of Art one of the premiere places to visit. To get to know us a little more, and to explore different careers in the arts, each month we will be asking a Museum staffer/intern to answer six questions about their position at the Museum, their favorite artworks or exhibitions on display in the museum and other personal attributes. 


Nicole Leist, Assistant Manager of Adult & Academic Programs

RMA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the Rubin Museum.

I am the new Assistant Manager of Adult and Academic Programs. Working closely with Laura Lombard, the Head of Adult and Academic Programs, my first project is reviewing applications for the fall 2014 class of Apprentice Museum Educators. In addition to working with university partnerships, professional trainings, and program development, I will also be teaching in the galleries.

RMA: Where are you originally from and how did you end up at the Rubin?

My hometown is Louisville, Kentucky and it’s been a long and winding road to the Rubin! I attended undergraduate university at Washington University in St. Louis. During my junior year abroad at University College London, I discovered big museums for the first time in the form of the British Museum. It was love at first sight. After my B.A., was complete, I packed my bags for New York in pursuit of American museums and attended New York University to receive an M.A. in Museum Studies. I was a guide at the Rubin Museum (in a very different incarnation of the program) in 2005-2006. Then I joined the staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I held several internships and professional positions, most recently the Associate Education Programs Coordinator of Public and Exhibition Programs. In this role I worked with free public lecture programs for adults. In my free time, I was a graduate student at Columbia University, earning a second M.A. in Art History and developing my gallery teaching practice at the Met. As the Rubin and I enter our second decade in New York, it seemed like to perfect time to come back.

RMA: What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on at the Museum?

Getting my feet thoroughly wet! I am excited to embark on my new position duties. Currently I am participating in the July program Teen Art Labs: Connected City.

RMA: Out of all the current exhibitions at the Rubin Museum, which one is your favorite?

Not in one exhibition, but the stars of the collection- Wrathful deities! These are represented on almost every floor and especially in the exhibition Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine. Wrathful protectors are the flaming-eyebrowed, zombie- riding, intestine lasso-wielding crew that are my all-time Rubin favorites, due to a lifelong interest in mythology and folktales. They have an engaging energy and are imbued with an infectious vitality. In my gallery teaching, I am interested in the original context of objects and how they continue to resonate with contemporary life. The wrathful deities are so distinctive to the Himalayas and to the Rubin’s collection; I am drawn to their paradox of ferocity and compassion.


Red Wolf-Headed Protectress Central Tibet; 19th century Pigments on cloth Rubin Museum of Art C2006.66.9 (HAR 192)

RMA: What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve experienced working at the Rubin Museum?

When I was revisiting the galleries during my interview process, I was pleasantly surprised that a fellow visitor spontaneously came up to me and talked to me about how the Rubin was a special place to them. I hope to contribute to that wonderful sense of conviviality.

RMA: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow the same career path?

As a field, Museum Education is expanding and changing rapidly-a great place to begin is to intern and/or volunteer in a variety of institutions and gain teaching experience.


Nicole Leist Teaching at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

RMA: What do you do when you’re not at the Rubin Museum?

In my home borough of Brooklyn, you are likely to find me on a run in Prospect Park or at a flea market, and I am a big fan of New York museums and sister institutions such as libraries, zoos, botanic gardens and historic homes in the Hudson Valley. I always have a fiction book in process and love going to author talks.

RMA: If you could travel anywhere in the Himalayas where would you go and why?

It is a part of the world I am still exploring via armchair, but I love Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi novel so it would be fascinating to visit Varanasi. The city is significant as an ancient site of continuous inhabitation, in addition to its deep importance as a holy site for both Hinduism and Buddhism. And it is a river city, much like Louisville, St. Louis, London and New York, so I will have at least one point of reference.

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Himalayan Sounds Family Art Lab This Saturday!

Join us on Saturday, July 12th, from 2 PM – 4 PM, for our Himalayan Sounds Family Art Lab!  Hear monks chanting in the Tibetan Shrine Room and join our special guest, Preeti Vasudevan, on an exploration of the galleries to discover musical instruments in the artworks.  Make your own instrument from recycled, natural and found materials in the art studio!

Please visit the Museum website for more info or to purchase tickets.

See you Saturday!

Himalayan Sounds_new

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What Do American Indian and Himalayan Art Museums Have in Common?

For their latest Educator Meetup, the Rubin Museum’s Education team headed all the way down town to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). While it might seem like a museum devoted to the historical and contemporary material culture of American Indians and a museum dedicated to mainly Hindu and Buddhist art from Himalayan Asia would have very little in common, the Rubin educators were pleasantly surprised to find that the two institutions actually had many parallels.

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The Rubin Educators first took a tour of NMAI’s relatively new, encyclopedic exhibition Infinity of Nations. The tour was prefaced by a brief visualization activity where the Rubin team members were asked to imagine an American Indian Chief and to paint a mental picture of him, from his clothing and accouterments to the environment in which he existed. Then, as a the group entered the first section of the exhibition, they were confronted by a series of ten headdresses from different Native Peoples around the Western Hemisphere. When asked if anyone saw something similar to what they had imagined, no one had an affirmative answer. This activity was the first step in understanding how strong our stereotypes are, even if we don’t think that we hold them, and how those stereotypes influence the way that we experience exhibitions.

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After a whirlwind tour of the immense exhibition that left the whole group wishing there was more time, we proceeded to the museum’s Education Center. More colloquially known as the “Tipi Room,” the Education Center is an interactive exhibit that focuses on the culture of the peoples of the Great Plains of central North America. Here we were met by two of the museum’s Cultural Interpreters as well as the Manager of Education. First, Cultural Interpreter William Chimborazo led the group in an experience/discussion about his goals when working K-12 students, specifically when telling the Christopher Columbus story, which is one of the most requested topics for the NMAI interpreters. William stresses the fact that, when telling the history of Columbus, semantics are very important. The commonly used language is that Christoper Columbus “discovered” America, but in reality, America was not his to discover. He got lost during his journey to the West Indies and stumbled upon what is currently the Dominican Republic, a place that was already populated by the Taino people.

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William continued to stress the importance of not forming or enforcing stereotypes such as “All Indians lived a long time ago” or “All Indians live in tipis” because there are, in fact, over 500 distinct Native American tribes in North America alone, each with its own culture, history, and language. So when asking questions like, “What kinds of houses do American Indians live in?” the answer is always “different.” Visitors to the Rubin Museum also come laden with stereotypes about Buddhists, China, Tibet, and other cultures within the Himalayan region. The guides agreed that they must all work to find the best ways to gently dispel these stereotypes in a sensitive and skillful way.

To end the field trip, we opened up the floor to the Rubin Educators so that they could have a chance to voice their thoughts about the similarities between their institution and NMAI and to begin a discussion about the challenges we both face and how we deal with them. One interesting topic that came up was the importance of cultural sensitivity. In both museums, there are educators who belong to the culture about which they are teaching, but more commonly, neither the educators nor the students belong to that culture. At the Rubin, we often incorporate the concept of Mindfulness into our teaching. While other museums like NMAI might not use that term, they often talk about sensitivity, neutrality, or cultural relativism when discussing the cultures of various American Indians.

Another question that came up dealt with the issue of working in a museum that holds a very specific political position (in both cases, one of neutrality) and how educators have to set aside their own opinions in order to uphold the position of the museum. Every educator at the Rubin has been confronted with questions about Tibet and whether or not the museum supports Tibet in any way. It is important for all educators to understand that the Rubin, as a public institution, remains neutral on the subject, just like NMAI must remain neutral on issues regarding the Indigenous populations of North and South America. The Manager of Education, Dr. Johanna Gorelick, was able to speak directly about the position of NMAI as a Smithsonian Museum and a branch of the US Government, and about the importance of all of the museum’s staff knowing how to talk about tricky political issues.

The last part of the discussion focused on the missions of the two institutions and whether or not a separate Education Mission should be added. The Mission of the Rubin is as follows:

The Rubin Museum of Art is a dynamic environment that stimulates learning, promotes understanding, and inspires personal connections to the ideas, cultures, and art of Himalayan Asia.

Although we currently do not have a separate mission statement for the Department of Education and Engagement, the staff that was present for this discussion largely agreed that the part of the mission where the guides can really excel and have the most rewarding experiences is in helping visitors to create personal connections to the art in the museum.

The NMAI mission has many parallels with that of the Rubin, with one major difference. NMAI stresses the importance of cultivating partnerships with the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere:

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present, and future—through partnership with Native people and others. The museum works to support the continuance of culture, traditional values, and transitions in contemporary Native life.

Another aspect that is conspicuously not included in the Rubin’s mission is the inclusion of contemporary life in Himalayan Asia, and the group also discussed this fact and how they address contemporary concepts during their tours and programs.

Everyone agreed that this was very engaging and very heavy meetup that address many tricky issues. Stay tuned for July’s meetup, which just might be a little more lighthearted.

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Staff Connections: Laura Craft, Coordinator of Family Programs

Running a museum takes a whole team of professionals whose different skills help make the Rubin Museum of Art one of the premiere places to visit. To get to know us a little more, and to explore different careers in the arts, each month we will be asking a Museum staffer/intern to answer six questions about their position at the Museum, their favorite artworks or exhibitions on display in the museum and other personal attributes. For the fourteenth installment of we’re going to be introduced to Laura Craft, Coordinator of Family Programs.

Laura Craft, Coordinator, Family Programs

Laura Craft, Coordinator, Family Programs

RMA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the Rubin Museum.

I am the Coordinator of Family Programs here at the Rubin Museum of Art, which means that with the help of the Youth and Family Team, I coordinate, develop, implement, and teach all Family Programs – including Yak Packers, Family Sundays, Family Art Labs, Pre-School Workshops, birthday parties, and Families Together partnerships.

RMA: Where are you originally from and how did you end up at the Rubin?

I am originally from Ocean Springs Mississippi, spent my undergraduate experience in North Carolina, and have been happily in New York City for the past 12 years. About six years ago I began work as a teaching artist with LEAP and, after becoming certified in 2011, I worked as an art teacher for the NYC DOE (Department of Education) and then began my career here at the Rubin Museum in 2012.   I originally found out about the Rubin by attending one of the Red Book talks with David Byrne. I am a huge David Byrne fan, so there was no question that I’d be front and center at that talk. After attending the program, there was just something that stayed in my memory about the Rubin. Throughout my art teaching career in schools, I volunteered with several museums and museum education was something that kept calling my name, so I applied for a position here in Family Programs and I am gratefully still here today.

Laura Teaching During Family Art Labs

Laura Teaching During Family Art Labs

RMA:What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on at the Museum?

Oh, I am so excited to talk about the new programs we have in Family Programs! Family Sundays, which you’ve probably already heard of by now, is our newest addition to Family Programming. It’s a weekly drop-in program that happens every Sunday and really gives families a day to call their own at the Rubin Museum. It’s very exciting because we’ve never had a day of the week dedicated to families here at this museum. An upcoming event that the Education Staff is planning is a community day, which will hopefully be happening on Sunday, July 20th. I am very excited about the potential of this event, but it’s not a set event yet, so I’ll hold off on providing any further info.

RMA: Out of all the current exhibitions at the Rubin Museum, which one is your favorite?

This is a hard one, but my favorite is probably Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine, because I have an interest in Eastern medical treatments. I, myself, am an avid acupuncture goer and have taken Chinese herbs for past ailments with great healing success. It’s such a great exhibition, because it introduces people to the ideologies behind Tibetan Medicine, the practices, and the artwork is really stunning.

Finished Family Art Lab Projects

Finished Family Art Lab Projects

RMA: What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve experienced working at the Rubin Museum?

This past March I did an interview with the New York Times about our Losar Family Day. It was the first time my name has ever been in the Times and hopefully it won’t be the last. Having any of our great Family Programs mentioned in the Times is an honor. I am hoping a Family Sundays write-up will be next!

Family Programs in the Gallery Led by Laura Craft

Family Programs in the Gallery Led by Laura Craft

RMA: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow the same career path?

Get a master’s degree because it’s an important qualification in this field. Do a museum education internship and/or volunteer as much as possible. Joining NYCMER is a great idea too for networking and professional developments. Being persistent helps too – it’s a competitive field, so don’t be discouraged when it doesn’t work out the first time. Keep trying and it will happen!

RMA: What do you do when you’re not at the Rubin Museum?

I love to draw, paint, and sculpt. I also have several friends with children, so have been known to give some impromptu art lessons here and there. My personal artwork can be seen at http://lauradcraft.blogspot.com

 In progress from the Truer Stories: The Boone Years series paper on wood 6 x 6 in. Laura Craft

In progress from the Truer Stories: The Boone Years series
paper on wood
6 x 6 in.
Laura Craft

RMA: If you could travel anywhere in the Himalayas where would you go and why?

I very recently got back from Nepal and absolutely loved it, so I’d love to be able to go back there at some point. A place I’d like to visit next is the Tibetan Region – to see and explore all that I possibly can! Maybe on my next trip…


Mount Everest. Photo by Laura Craft

Mount Everest. Photo by Laura Craft


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Celebrating Collaboration with PS 33 Chelsea Prep

By Asya and Larissa

On June 10, the students of Ms. Scott’s and Ms. Georgantonis Pre-K classes at PS 33 celebrated the end of a 20-session arts residency at the Rubin Museum with morning of art activities, snacks and sharing.

The students loved sharing their collaborative projects with their parents. After working so hard on their own portraits, the students were so proud to see their works integrated into a class tree inspired by images of trees in the Bodies In Balance exhibition.  They had a great time looking for their self-portraits and finding their names on the completed banners.  The banners will hang at the Rubin Museum’s Education Center through the summer and then will be moved to the school for other students to see.L2014.5.2_Tree of the Body in Health and IllnessIMG_4818 2IMG_4764IMG_4823During the event, students heard the Himalayan story of the Four Friends and learned about their peaceful collaboration. Having their own collaborative works on display reminded the classes how they worked together to create art inspired by the museums collection.  They then also made a mandala together with each student filling in a part of the shape with colored pieces of paper.

IMG_4836 IMG_4839IMG_4834  IMG_4841 IMG_4844 2It was an absolute pleasure to work with such dynamic and creative students eager to learn about Himalayan cultures and practice art making.  We look forward to working more with PS 33 next year and continuing our own collaboration with the teachers, administrators, and parents.

Thank you to Marilyn, Laura and Gail for making the celebration extra special. We hope to see all the students and their families at the Rubin Museum in the near future.

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A Peek into a very Magical Family Art Lab

Last Saturday we held our Magical Masks Family Art Lab.  In this workshop, we explored the uses of Himalayan masks, searched the galleries for masks and animals (who inspire many Tibetan masks), and created our own masks in the art studio.  It was a magical day, to say the least.

After a brief presentation and discussion about the uses of masks, we headed to the Museum for our gallery exploration.  When began in the Spiral Lobby, where we noticed an animal-inspired mask hanging over our heads.


We continued our journey over to the gold Shiva that greets all Museum goers as they enter the Rubin.  Here participants were asked to imagine and draw themselves with exaggerated features (like those in the mask).  The result? …a lot of gigantic eyes and ears and some pretty fantastic teamwork.


We climbed the mountain-esque stairs, stopping on the 3rd floor Masterworks exhibition in search of animals.  Our first stop was in the Lukhang Mural room, where we discovered yaks, tigers, elephants, and horses in the artworks.

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Look closely to notice the details!


Many masks have very exaggerated facial expressions – a topic we also discussed in the classroom before our tour.  In the Rubin’s collection, you’ll see facial expressions ranging from peaceful to wrathful.  In addition to animals, we searched for these expressions in the artworks.


Despite all of the wrathful looks we noticed, family love was abound in the Museum…


After our tour, we returned to the art studio to make our own masks.  Inspired by all of the animals found in the Museum, participants selected from a variety of plaster animal masks and used materials like paint, ribbon, pipe cleaners, sequins and gems, collage papers, and glitter (of course) to decorate them.


Hard work combined with creativity made for some truly inspiring works of art.

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I suspect some people were mixing a little fun and laughter into their mask-making.


The results blew me away.  Best. Masks. Ever.

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As always, it was a pleasure joining all the families in the fun.  I hope to see you and your family at next month’s Himalayan Sounds Family Art Lab!  We’ll join guest movement instructor, Preeti Vasudevan, in a movement-inspired gallery exploration followed by crafting our own Himalayan instruments out of recycled materials in the art studio!

Please also join us on any Sunday for our new drop-in program, Family Sundays! Sundays in June will continue with Super Sculpting and an exploration of the 6th floor From India East exhibition.  In July we’ll be exploring Himalayan woodblock printing, using woodblocks to create original prints.  Drop into the Museum or art studio any time on a Sunday between 1 & 4pm!


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Recent Expeditions to the Asia Society and the Met!

As educators, we are constantly learning from each other and looking to find new techniques and strategies we can use to enhance our own practice. Here in the Education Department, we have recently taken several field trips to learn more about art that relates to our own collection as well as how to teach with it in a variety of exciting ways.

It was a great pleasure to finally visit the Asia Society during one of our most recent trips in May. Here, we had a guided tour of the Golden Visions of Densatil exhibition with Head of Museum Education Programs, Nancy Blume.

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Part of what was so fascinating about the show was seeing similar sculptures that we have in our own galleries in a different space and context. We recognized the same deities and Boddhisattvas, but it was invigorating to see them in slightly different sizes and poses. One piece that really caught my eye was a painting of the Buddha’s footsteps, which I learned is one way to symbolize him; through very meaningful symbols such as these.

After the tour, we all were so inspired that we decided a group field trip to Nepal and the Himalayas was definitely in order! The next field trip we did take however wasn’t so far away; we stayed on the upper east side, this time journeying to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an interactive tour with former Rubin Museum educator, David Bowles!photo 3 (4)   photo 2 (4)  photo

With David, we toured the Asian wing and not only had dynamic conversations but also engaged in art making and hands on activities, in only a few minutes time. For the first activity, we were instructed to sit back to back and decide who would be the sketcher and who the describer. Looking at the art object before me, I suddenly became very conscious of the language I chose to describe my piece with and then while sketching, I became aware how important it was to listen closely to all the details, even the small ones. Here is how Larissa’s drawing turned out based on my description of the stupa, seen next to it:

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The last activity we engaged in was quite memorable. After looking at a very unique Buddha mosaic composed of pop-culture icons and symbols as seen here:

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“Dissected Buddha,” 2011, Gonkar Gyatso, collage, stickers, pencil, colored pencil and acrylic on paper, more here: Dissected Buddha

we were instructed to have a conversation with a partner about it without talking or using any words! All we could do was communicate through sketching and drawing on the paper we shared. It was fascinating to learn how when using visual imagery, we may think we are having the same conversation, when in reality, we can be having two very different ones. Listening, looking at, and engaging with these works together helped us to notice how we each respond uniquely and differently to art, and how through gallery activities, we can create a very interactive and memorable experience even in a short period of time.

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Check back soon for an upcoming post about our most recent trip to the National Museum of the American Indian, NMAI, in lower Manhattan!

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Magical Masks this Saturday at Family Art Labs!

This Saturday, June 14th, from 2 PM – 4 PM join us at the Education Center for our Magical Masks Family Art Lab. Uncover the stories behind the masks in the Museum’s collection and let your imagination run wild when you make your own mask in the art studio!

Please visit the Museum website for more info or to purchase tickets.

See you Saturday!


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