Taking the “No” Out of Museums

How Port Discovery Uproots the Image of a Traditional Museum

By Kylie Sharkey

Daveed Korup is a professional storyteller for The Port Discovery Children’s Museum, working to promote the institution’s mission of connecting purposeful play and learning. When I spoke with Korup, a brightly colored scarf was draped below his shoulder length hair, a felt fedora placed on the table beside him. His eyes were expressive and his mustache bobbed as he chattered. As he relaxed into his chair for a two-hour interview, his voice never wavered as anecdotes rolled easily off his tongue. I was offered a glimpse into a museum that radically repels stereotypical images of quiet spaces adorned with statues and canvases.

Originally hired seven years ago as an Education and Community Development manager, Korup is now in charge of all the Performing Arts programs at Port Discovery. Korup is an “arts integrationist,” designing percussion instruments that he incorporates into storytelling. “I believe in integrating art into learning core subjects because art is all around us, it’s the things we see, the things that tantalize us, that get our imaginations going.” Korup hands danced emphatically in the air, “Using art as a unifying theme you can teach really heavy duty concepts from, basic reading and writing, math and science, social studies and history, you can cover the world just by using art.” However, it soon became clear that Korup’s brand of art was not an art that could be confined and nailed to a wall. This unique take on the museum redefines museological expectations.

Daveed Kourp playing percussion (www.Daveedkourp.com)
Daveed Kourp playing percussion (www.Daveedkourp.com)

When one imagines a museum, the image of white spaces and quiet introspection comes to mind. Security guards are tucked away into corners and “Please do not touch” signs dot the walls. However, as Korup points out, this model does not work for a children’s museum. “There are only so many Louvres, and there are only so many people who really want to go into the Louvre. You get common Joe and Sally off the street with their three kids and they want to go into a place, you have to have a story that is going to pull them in… I know lots of families who have come to Port Discovery, but I don’t know as many families who have all gone to the Walters, and the Walters is an internationally regarded museum.” Korup continued by noting that while the ballet and orchestra are important experiences for children, those experiences, “really should be balanced by those kind of things where kids can get their hands dirty. Where they get down on the ground, where they get to touch it, where they get to manipulate it, where it’s built in such a way where no matter how they manipulate it, it won’t break…And they don’t have someone telling them no. That word doesn’t belong in a Children’s Museum.”

As the conversation continued, it became clear that Korup was not interested in the perceived image of a museum. “If all it is, is their hands in their pockets,” he lamented, “why should they go in the first place? They can get that from a book or off a computer screen.” To him, simple play is as just important as looking at a Monet or Picasso. It is not even always necessary to always incorporate education into play. “Play in and of itself,” Korup beamed, “is an educational activity.” Continuing, he dropped his voice and chin and adapted a stern persona. Informal learning and play, Korup declares, is where “the real learning,” comes from.

Korup’s signature storytelling method is Kamishibai, an ancient Japanese art form using a box with different illustrated cards to tell a narrative. These cards slide in and out of the box, “The first motion pictures,” he laughed. Meaning “paper drama,” Kamishibai is a mode which easily accommodates theatrical performances. Originally, Kamishibai boxes would be brought to parks on the back of a bicycle and children would gather around to buy candy and be told a story. Today, Kamishibai is a part of Port Discovery’s daily programing of fifteen to twenty minutes segments called “circle time.” The performances can take place at any location in the museum where Korup will perch himself on a stool next to his box while incorporating music and activities into the narrative, “the children get a big kick out of it.”

Daveed Kourp performs with his Kamishibai (www.Daveedkourp.com)
Daveed Kourp performs with his Kamishibai (www.Daveedkourp.com)

One of Korup’s favorite stories to tell through Kamishibai is Brown Bear Brown Bear because he can easily include the children. This rhetoric of “inclusion” permeates Korup’s interview and reinvigorates the idea that Port Discovery is not a quiet art museum, but rather a place where children’s hands wave frantically and voice’s shout out. During his rendition of Brown Bear Brown Bear, Korup uses picture cards to help the children tell the story themselves. Since the format of the text is repetitious. Korup’s voice grows softer as he imitates the interaction, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? Ah! The children answer, I see a red bird looking at me!” Through this pattern the children recite the entire book themselves. “When you’re done,” he explained, “you congratulate them for having a book memorized, you give them that kudos, it is an incredible thing and an accomplishment.”

Korup also designs and implements “Soundscape” programs that combine music and play. Port Discovery’s newest soundscape is titled, “Let’s Make a Storm.” The program makes use of the new “percussion garden” where all the musical instruments are designed to look like shrubs, tree, benches, or anything that one would find in a park. The children start the guided activity with body percussion, stomping, clapping, and shouting. Then the percussion instruments are incorporated and the result is a “major storm” in which all the sounds are going off at once, creating a cacophony resembling a thunderstorm.

According to Korup, Port Discovery is far removed from the clinical and quiet halls of art museums. Unlike the security guards who often hover through exhibits, the children’s museum’s staff is personal and warm. This sense of comfort stems from the relationships that are built between individual workers and children. “There is a comfort for children when they come to Port Discovery.” Korup expands, “You know most of these children come over and over again, so they are developing relationships with these employees, just coming through the door you recognize a face, you recognize that smile, you know it’s going to be a good time. Even to the point where some of these kids recognize names.” Korup stirs his coffee and recalls the joy he feels when a child remembers his name. “For a kid to come into a place like that and recognize you,” he pauses fondly, “even to the point of being able to remember your name? That means you’ve made an impact on them, that means you have affected them, and reached them and touched them in such a positive way that they keep coming back … you know you’ve done something right and worthwhile.” It is this connection, Korup stresses, that sets Port Discovery apart. At the museum, children “get to go see people and not just things. That’s important I think.”

Korup’s gave many anecdotes throughout his interview, but the larger picture he crafted illustrated an institution that uproots the reserved image of a museum and conversely puts play on a pedestal. The booming voices in Korup’s percussion garden, the colorful images that flip across his Kamishibai, and the face to face relationships he forms, craft a picture of an institution directly opposed to the perceived nature of museums. It is a place where hands are flung from pockets and banged onto drums. Art comes alive, embodied by children, who wouldn’t do well to obey the “Please don’ts” of many traditional museums. While Korup’s approach is uniquely geared towards Children’s Museums, one cannot help but wonder if the white walls one imagines when thinking of museums wouldn’t benefit from a bit of play.




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