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Freshmen, city kids make masks at Johnson Museum

Johnson Museum tour
Lindsay France/University Photography
Members of the Townhouse Community and their families visit the Johnson Museum of Art.

After being led into the sprawling, 1,100-piece “visible storage gallery” of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, tour guide Lesley Alegria ’14 asked a group of elementary students how many objects they thought were featured in the exhibit.


Kids from Ithaca’s Southside Community Center were paired up with Cornell freshmen from the Townhouse Community Saturday, Feb. 22, to explore masks at the museum and make their own using paint, ribbon, glitter, pipe cleaners and more. Chaperone Crystal Simon, the youth program coordinator at the center, said, “The kids have been talking about this all week. They’re so excited!”

After bonding with their buddies over silly drawings, the students took turns typing object numbers into gallery iPads that gave detailed information on the various pieces. They then read descriptions aloud and discussed masks they saw.

Leading his buddy, Shawn James ’17, by the hand, South Hill Elementary School second-grader Eddie stood by windows on the fifth floor by the Southeast Asia collection. “Hi tiny people, hi minions!” he said, taking in a panoramic view of Ithaca.

Alegria led the group to see Javanese 20th-century shadow puppets often shown in 12-hour performances. Rausheen, best friend of Eddie and a first-grader at Belle Sherman Elementary School, asked, “But what if the people who held the puppets fell asleep?”

Finally, it was time for the kids to make their own masks.

Inspired by an interactive exhibit titled “What is Missing?”that focused on endangered animals, Kenneth, a third-grader at Northeast Elementary, decided to make a mask composed of animal features, including rabbit teeth and a lion’s mane. Another student, second-grader Nyrece, gave her mask a glitter nose ring while Antonio, a third-grader at South Hill Elementary, decided to make an “angry” mask. Asked by Alegria what types of masks they’d seen so far, Antonio answered, “Ones that scare people and ones that celebrate people.”

Bryan Duff, lecturer in education, organized the program as part of his service as a North Campus Faculty Fellow. Fellows work with Faculty in Residence and other residential life staff to design programs to build community and help students experience the fun side of intellectual interests.

Duff developed the Johnson Museum program after a great experience with another museum in the fall: “When I paired Townhouse residents with Southside kids to explore Museum of the Earth, there was a great reciprocity: Our students provided models of curious, respectful, proud-to-be-smart young adults, and the kids helped us remember the benefits of being playful.”

Freshman Amiri Banks said he thoroughly enjoyed his first time at the museum with his new buddy, Rausheen: “It was a really refreshing change of pace from college life.”

Duff said that the opportunity for a change of pace will happen again soon when the two groups share a trip to the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse, N.Y.

Natalie O’Toole ’16 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

Media Contact

John Carberry