One of my earliest memories is standing in line for the King Tut exhibition at LACMA in the late 70s. So it’s no surprise that both my mini-art-nerd-self and current grown-up-mom-self would agree that the ArtBites program is brilliant. Maite Gomez Rejón, a professional museum educator and trained chef, combines art history lectures in museum galleries with on-site cooking classes. But don’t worry, her careful set ups don’t put anyone or anything at serious risk.
The interdisciplinary approach brings together topics and places such as Leonardo and vegetarianism at the Getty, British tea customs at the Huntington, and ancient Aztec traditions at the Getty Villa. The collaborative meal at the end of each seminar becomes a party, Gomez-Rejón says, and the art “comes to life outside the walls of the museum.” Better yet, Gomez Rejón regularly offers incredible workshops for kids — without the wine, of course.
ArtBites’ Mommy & Me Mondays (or also Daddy & Me) isn’t just about creating the next gen of gallery urchins, but instead animates some favorite children’s books in a whole new way. Starting on Monday, January 24, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Gomez Rejón will lead kids aged 3 to 6 through a six-week session of reading, crafting and cooking. I wish I were creative enough to make banana boat floats and crowns when reading Where the Wild Things Are. And pink velvet cake baking pink velvet cupcakes along with Pinkalicious will certainly win some new little friends. Each weekly session costs $55 each, or $300 for the series, and it all takes place at the ArtBites kitchen in the Miracle Mile area. Gomez Rejón has also taught children’s classes at Surfas, and hosts workshops regularly at local institutions such as the Huntington — garden tour for kids followed by a Japanese tea ceremony in March, anyone? — so check the website for regular updates. Movies, music, and cultural materials also inspire ArtBites events.
Our last family museum visit was rough-going and brief — thankfully early film footage of NYC transportation infrastructure saved us in the Hopper exhibition — but like healthy food, art appreciation doesn’t necessarily happen with force-feeding. Turn the page to learn about how Gomez Rejón gets kids to love both.
How can art help picky kids become better eaters? And how does food help kids become more interested in art and art history?
Art has a story to tell, and who doesn’t love a good story?! Sometimes we might not even look at a work of art depicting food, instead we’ll explore a portrait of a king and after discussing his stance, dress and demeanor — and maybe doing a quick sketch — we’ll talk about what and how this person would eat (which is normally pretty extravagant). Even the pickiest eaters immediately become intrigued and open to trying something new.
Have you seen kids get excited about food they otherwise wouldn’t eat after seeing it represented in a work of art?
Yes! All the time. Parents are often shocked to find that their kids suddenly have a love for foods they don’t even touch at home – like cucumbers, or don’t even know existed — like hearts of palm. I taught a class recently inspired by the Beatles and we made a peppery hearts of palm salad (after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). One of the moms told me that her 8 year old daughter insists on eating this salad every single night. So it doesn’t just apply to the visual arts!
It depends on the kid, obviously, but what generally is a good age to start integrating lessons about art and food?
It’s never too early!!
Any paintings or works of art in particular you find effective for engaging very young minds and appetites?
Still lifes are great to look at with very young minds because they can point to foods that are familiar to them — the element of recognition is exciting and empowering to them. Portraits are also wonderful tools in not only introducing people of different cultures and backgrounds but also foods from around the world.
L.A. has come so far recently, with projects and organizations like Fallen Fruit, Garden School Foundation, and GOOD/LAUSD’s school garden project. What would you like to see happen that might help advance the causes of nutrition, education, and public visual culture?
It is such and exiting time to be involved in art and food in LA right now. It almost feels like a blank canvas! I would love to see more collaborations and projects ensuing between these organizations to help kids make clear connections between food, art and history in a fun, accessible and hands-on way.