MúzeumCafé Award 2014
Rita Dabi-Farkas, museum education specialist, Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are marking a small, but for us significant, anniversary. We have gathered to present the MúzeumCafé Award for the fifth time. The main criteria behind the whole concept of MúzeumCafé and, correspondingly, of assigning the MúzeumCafé Award are ‘pointing forward’ and initiative – that is the basis on which the editorial board and the editorial staff decide what goes in the magazine, as with the jury regarding to whom they present the award that the magazine has founded. At this point let me list those who determined who should receive MúzeumCafé Award 2014. Members of MúzeumCafé’s editorial board participated in the work of the jury – László Baán, director of the Museum of Fine Arts; Péter György, aesthetician, university professor, director of ELTE’s Institute of Art Theory and Media Research; Zoltán Rockenbauer, art historian, curator at the Kunsthalle, and László Török, archaeologist, Nubiologist, full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Beatrix Basics, Marianna Berényi, Emőke Gréczi, Zoltán Lévay and Gábor Martos represented the editorial staff. In January the jury voted to give the MúzeumCafé Award to Rita Dabi-Farkas, museum education specialist at the Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art for devising, implementing and coordinating museum education projects for people with cognitive difficulties. Rita Dabi-Farkas was born in Békéscsaba in 1977. This was followed by an arts secondary school in Szeged and then she first graduated in intermedia studies and then painting, and she gained a teacher’s qualification from the University of Fine Arts. She has been working in the Ludwig Museum, in its archives from 2002, and from 2005 in the museum education team. The Department of Museum Education in the Ludwig Museum became involved with the issue of accessibility in 2009. Its museum education specialists have been organising guided tours for the blind and people with impaired vision for years. They make tactile objects with and for them, and regularly advertise competitions involving tactile drawings, which can be entered for by nursery, primary and secondary school pupils. In addition, an increasing number of new projects are being implemented in terms of professional events for people with cognitive difficulties. Integrated Family Mornings for healthy and disabled young people and their families have been held since January 2011 and these series of events won the Museum Education Award for Excellence in 2012. Rita Dabi-Farkas, together with graphic artist-teacher Rita Farkas, artist-teacher Krisztina Mag, museum education specialist Franciska Hajdú and special education teacher Krisztina Scholtz organize a variety of creative development activities for 3 to 10-year-old children with Down syndrome, autism and learning difficulties due to a lack of oxygen at birth or other reasons, together with their parents and healthy siblings. A new series of events for young people with cognitive difficulties over 14, which was developed and coordinated by Rita Dabi-Farkas, was a major step forward in this very important line of work. The first session was held on 14 January 2014 with the participation of not only the Ludwig Museum but also the Kiscelli Museum and the Museum of Agriculture. The Award, annually created by PlexiAWARDS, each year has a different colour scheme, which in some way is connected to the awarded person or his/her institution. The present four colours were selected from a work made during two creative sessions held by the special education teacher of the Csalogány School, Ágnes Onódi, and the museum education specialist of the Kiscelli Museum, Zsófia Sziray. Young people with learning difficulties, who took part in the award-winning project initiated by Rita Dabi-Farkas, participated in the session, which was specifically held to select the four colours. Besides Rita Dabi-Farkas, others can also be proud of her award, including all the museum education specialists, special education teachers and artists who actively contributed to the sessions alongside Rita. As can all the staff of the Ludwig Museum’s Museum Education Department, headed by László Hemrik, who are all regular participants of such and similar sessions and who obviously represent the same approach which helped Rita Dabi-Farkas plan the awarded series of events. Finally, the Museum’s management, which enables them to perform this work at such a high standard should also be congratulated. Yet, according to the jury, it was Rita Dabi-Farkas herself who played a major role in implementing the new project launched last year. Therefore we have resolutely found her worthy of the MúzeumCafé Award 2014. (Delivered at the presentation of the MúzeumCafé Award 2014 in the Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, 25 March 2015.)
The MúzeumCafé Award for 2014 has been presented to Rita Dabi-Farkas, a museum education specialist at the Ludwig Museum, for introducing and coordinating museum events for people with cognitive difficulties. (See MúzeumCafé 39 for a review of the importance of the issue.) Here we introduce Rita, who is behind the integration projects in Hungary’s largest museum of contemporary art, where she has been working for 13 years.
– You have at least three careers: artist, teacher of yoga for spine flexibility and museum education specialist. In addition, you have some special qualifications, such as theatre technician. Does that mean that the theatre also interests you or whatever you start you want to get a qualification for it?
I was born in Békéscsaba and went to a secondary school specialising in the arts. When I was unsuccessful with my application for the University of Fine Arts I thought I would spend a year attending a course on design, but I didn’t like it so I dropped out. However, a new course for a qualification of theatre technician started. I am actually interested in everything. Since early childhood I have liked learning. I was one of the few students who regarded every subject as important. I soon understood that one supplemented the other and that was how you could get to the whole.
– When did the fine arts become a priority?
It has always been. I wanted to be involved in the arts – what changed every year was in which area. I wanted to become a fashion designer one year and a potter in another. I finished primary school with a focus on art, specializing in enamel and sculpture. In secondary school I did graphic art and I studied painting and intermedia simultaneously at university. During the school summer holidays I went to artists’ colonies. I liked seeing an approach that was different from the academic art preferred by the secondary school of arts. In the first term of secondary school we all had to learn to draw straight lines freehand, we were continuously drawing cubes. We came to realize that although we were all able to draw nice straight lines, we lost a lot of our individuality. Then I found freedom in painting and so I applied to study painting at university.
I was admitted to Dóra Maurer’s class and immediately on the first occasion she asked whether I wanted to attend the intermedia tutorials as well. She thought it suited my thinking. I took her advice and indeed the intermedia department, where I met my husband and all my friends, became more my cup of tea than the department of painting.
– Yours was the best degree work at the Intermedia Department. What was it about?
I was interested in what happened when someone saw a work of art. To an artist it soon turns out that society does not regard this activity very highly, the majority are not interested at all. An artist does not have a respected status, people rather wonder at the fact that such oddballs exist. When we discuss a living artist in museum education sessions I always show a photo – here you are, look at him, don’t imagine a 100-year-old man in a painter’s cap. And they are shocked. Returning to my degree, already at the time I was pondering how the arts could be brought closer to people. I wanted to find an interface that gave an opportunity to involve the public. Besides the arts, another area that greatly interests me involves dance, gymnastics, and treating people with movement and breathing. For me they are very much in unity with the arts.
The idea was that while breathing, people cannot set limits to interacting with one another. Everyone breathes and you don’t know and cannot influence which particle you will inhale, perhaps the one that I’ve exhaled. I wanted to create an interface working on the basis of breathing. I had to design a device which could receive the sign (breathing) and transform the received one into a digital signal. The movement of the ribcage can be seen when breathing, so I wanted to make a belt that could measure this. I made many detours but in the end the installation was a circular cubicle which provided intimacy, yet its shape recalled entirety and inside a belt measured the breathing. Its rhythm regulated which videos appeared on the screen. They were made by my husband, also an artist, and I appeared in them. I studied three subjects simultaneously at university and in addition I did hundreds of jobs and was constantly tired. I sometimes fell asleep while eating. Incidental occurrences always thrilled my husband, who liked recording such events. So if something strange happened he recorded it. As with meditation: the slower the breathing, the more internal you become and correspondingly more intimate, deeper and stranger video recordings began when breathing was slow, while more superficial videos about me were shown when breathing was faster.
– What interests you as an artist? How much time do you have for your own career as an artist?
I never have enough time, my career as an artist is stagnating. I will never stop it, it is deep inside me, but these days my drive is to make a living. It makes my situation difficult that there are no opportunities for great headways in my present job as a public employee who also has a mortgage. This is a fact of Hungarian reality and not a complaint. However, the museum is very good for me in many respects. It is involved in contemporary arts, which I identify with, and few museums can compete with its facilities. I’ll be OK. My career as an artist will be resolved and whatever may happen what I am doing now is also part of my life. Whatever I do, I try to make people be alert and understand matters.
– How did you get to the Ludwig Museum?
Fatefully and unavoidably. I’ve always worked while studying. I was known for that at the department and when they asked for a person to do digitizing I was recommended. I said I was interested, but I could start work only a month later due to the examination period. Miraculously they waited, although they had not yet met me. That was 13 years ago and since then I’ve been working here. It’s funny that during the first seminar of contemporary Hungarian art at the university, when László Beke assigned the topics we had to prepare, I got the Ludwig Museum. That’s what I mean by fate. It wasn’t me who chose, but something was pushing me here.
– What made you get involved in museum education?
Initially, still up in the Castle under the management of Katalin Néray, I began classifying the archives and digitized the slides. In 2005 when we moved, museum education began to develop and a department headed by László Hemrik was formed, but there was no artist in his team. I was still sitting in the room of digital archives, but I was already participating in organizing weekend events and workshops. Then the communication manager called me and I formally joined museum education.
– Whose idea was the integrated museum education, and when and how did it begin?
At that time museum education was not as broad-ranging as now. Today such projects can be found in every competition tender and a visitor-friendly museum is taken for granted. My ideas were defined by my social attitude from the beginning. For instance, I wanted to bring together age groups that were apart, although they needed one another: grandmothers and grandchildren, the elderly and the young. I look at absences in society. Where are the gaps to be filled? Having integrated projects is connected to making the place accessible. Initiatives coming from below and above came together. On a course about welcoming people with special needs, held by the Szentendre Open Air Museum, I met some specialists who greatly influenced me. I wired into the world of people with cognitive difficulties. I’ve been organizing the weekend mornings for families since I joined the museum and I thought that integration building on those would be simplest. After all, is there a difference? The answer is little, though in the end all. I and Rita Farkas, who graduated in graphic art five years later than me, began it. We decided on a trial period of six months but didn’t advertise it. We invited groups from boarding institutions and we always asked for feedback from the chaperoning teachers. I contacted the Association of People with Mental Disabilities and their Helpers to gain more knowledge about families with such children. People in general are not aware of who they are and how to treat them, and parents with such children are scared. In a few months it turned out that empathy was most important, methods and nuances can be learnt. The content is the same for the different age groups, because it is there where their limitations are. Love, relationships in some form or another appear in the case of the older ones, but you have to treat them nearly in the same way. At first, integration had unexpected difficulties. Parents with children with cognitive difficulties generally did not want to join those with healthy children. Thus one session of the two a month is conducted simultaneously, but in a completely different place, while the creative part is joint. We asked people to choose. By now the early rigid boundaries have loosened much and children mix.
– Has a community been formed?
Children look forward to the sessions and meeting each other. Last year something happened that proved that links had been formed. A boy, who could only move his head and had difficulty with speaking, though he sang beautifully, regularly attended the sessions. His family had learnt of an operation in the US, but didn’t have enough money. I asked our director if I could ask for help using our correspondence list and the sum was collected in two weeks. They went to America and the operation improved his condition. I was very pleased that the mother dared turn to me.
– What was most edifying in introducing integrated museum education?
It must be found in terms of social responsibility. Recently I have often been asked to write articles and I’ve edited a workbook. I have had to reflect on what we are doing and its uses. I increasingly think that the problem is global: to be someone with cognitive difficulties not only means to be born like that, but the condition can also be caused by social effects. Our society’s attitude to these people is that they are unable to do anything, remaining children for ever. One of the parents usually gives up her or his job and devotes their life to the problem, or they enrol the child in an institution. These standard views determine what is in peoples’ minds, but if the opportunity is given this image can change entirely. The ability of people with Down syndrome to love and the sensitivity of those who suffered from lack of oxygen during birth represent a great treasure and can be ‘utilized’ in many ways. They detect when you have a problem and have more sympathy than others. The other day a little boy began crying at seeing his friend fall, saying his friend got hurt. Actually it was more hurtful for him. This sensitivity can, for instance, have a good effect in the case of depression. I think to bring together different social groups can only turn out well. I’ve read somewhere that whether a society is healthy can be seen in how it treats those with special needs, what role they can play in society. These families must be supported and listened to. It’s unacceptable how little support they are getting and I don’t mean only financial. Children with special needs are often born in or become such in disadvantaged families. It should be taught in school what abilities you should have when becoming a parent or what to do when parents become affected by dementia.
– What has been your greatest achievement so far?
No longer do the museum attendants have to be told or be prepared in advance, yet there is no shock on their faces, “Oh, dear, what’s going on here?”, as happened at first. Even segregated sessions are integrated in the sense that they become integrated into this medium. The resistance of the attendants and visitors has vanished.
Rita Dabi-Farkas took her finals specializing in graphic art at the István Tömörkény Secondary School of Art in Szeged. She graduated with a degree in intermedia in 2005 and a degree in painting, as well as a teaching qualification in 2006 at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. Earlier in 1998 she qualified as a theatre technician in the Héttükör Studio Theatre. She was an archivist from 2002 and has been a museum education specialist at the Ludwig Museum since 2005. She has been a teacher of the official preparatory course for intermedia at the University of Fine Arts since 2006. Since 2000 she has been teaching callanetics and yoga for spine flexibility at the Buda Callanetics Studio.