Art For The People – A Q&A With Sandra Garcia-Betancourt

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)


(Photo: Robin Elisabeth Kilmer)

Since it first opened its doors on October of 2015, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling has been a welcoming oasis for the arts for people of all ages. More than a just a museum for children, the Sugar Hill Museum has become an artistic, social and cultural magnet for the entire family. From their priceless collection of art housed in the museum to their interactive art workshops, the Sugar Hill Museum of Art & Storytelling has already made a tremendous contribution to our deeply under-served community. We sat down with their director, Sandra Garcia-Betancourt, to talk about the museum and its importance to our community and our children.

Sugar Hill Children's Musuem of Art & Storytelling exterior and courtyard designed by architect David Adjaye

Museum exterior and courtyard designed by architect David Adjaye

Q. First of all, how does it feel to have your institution housed in such an iconic edifice?

A. It is a very interesting and exhilarating experience. The Museum, the pre-school, the apartments, they are all part of this exciting experiment of creating innovative community models that are more in harmony with the needs of children & families. In essence, we promote the idea of sustainable spaces where life is wholesome. The building designed by renowned architect David Adjaye embraces the very experimental and creative notion of new viable communities and the Museum is an intrinsic part of this big house and now this community, and it feels great to be here.

Sugar Hill Musuem

(Photo: Michael Palma Mir)

Q. Even though the museum is just a year old it has very quickly become an indispensable facet of the uptown arts landscape. How did the museum come about?

A. The vision of the museum came from the leadership & staff at Broadway Housing Communities. For over 33 years this organization has been at the forefront of the efforts to secure dignified housing for poor and low-income families and individuals in our City. In the process of growing as an organization BHC understood that providing and creating access to education for children in their own buildings was imperative to strengthening families and equip children to come out of poverty. Soon after, the organization incorporated the concept of Art as a tool for learning and self-expression in their buildings. Local artists could now have a space to exhibit their works, engage with the residents, and create a space for dialogue, creativity and learning. Aiming to further expand and integrate these models, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling is born.

Sugar Hill Musuem-child

(Photo: Michael Palma Mir)

Q. This museum plays such a crucial role in a community that is woefully underserved when it comes to art resources. Why is art important to the children of Uptown?

A. The Museum is located in a very special location-right in the midst and intermingling of Harlem, Washington Heights, and just over the bridge from the South Bronx. These areas have historically faced multiple challenges, such as high rates of childhood poverty, low-performing public schools, and the largest number of family shelters in Manhattan. At the same time, Sugar Hill specifically is home to amazing and vibrant cultural legacies. The Sugar Hill Museum aims to offer be a space where children, families, teachers and artists can learn about our rich history, evolve, create their own stories, make art, and learn about the world.

(Photo: Michael Palma Mir)

(Photo: Michael Palma Mir)

Q. I have to say that the museum doesn’t feel like it is simply a children’s museum. I was blown away by the extent and breadth of the collection you guys have there at any given time. It feels very much like a place for both the parent and the child. Tell us a little about the idea behind that?

A. As a cultural cornerstone of the Sugar Hill Project (entire complex) it was always envisioned that the Museum would serve our smallest visitors (3 to 8 year olds), their parents, guardians, teachers, and our community in general. As it relates to children, our programs actively address the cognitive development of young children by using art and storytelling as vehicles to nurture the language, literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving skills that lead to long-term academic and personal success. As all children visiting the Museum are required to be accompanied by someone age 18+, Museum programs strongly encourage intergenerational participation with family members and caregivers sharing in the process of experiencing and creating art and stories. In the near future, we will create programming for adults’ that informs and reflects our neighborhood’s rich history and its unique location.

Sugar Hill Museum-david-shrobe

(Photo: Michael Palma Mir)

Q. I also love that the museum exudes interactivity, it is very hands on. It is a multi-sensory experience. Why is that important?

A. We promote the freedom of critical and creative thinking. We learn from each other. This happens in our Galleries with our Visitor Services team, in our Studio Labs with our artist educators, and during our storytelling programs with our amazing performers. Visitors engage with staff, but most importantly with each other creating a life-changing experience of understanding and mutual respect. Interactivity is a must!

Sugar Hill Museum - storyhour

(Photo: Michael Palma Mir)

Q. Any final thoughts?

A. We are gearing up for an exciting BIRTHDAY celebration on Saturday, October 1st! We are turning ONE! We will celebrate with a FREE fun-filled family day to include the inauguration of our two new exhibits CHESTER HIGGINS, JR: Passing Through and Z IS FOR ZIG-ZAG: Directions Around Northern Manhattan featuring artists Lucia Hierro, Roberto Pruitt, and Freddy Rodriguez, and full day of music, art-making, storytelling, dancing with DJ Chela, and more. We are also announcing new hours. As of October 6th, we will be open from 10am – 5pm from Thursday to Sunday (an additional 4 hours).

We encourage everyone to come and celebrate our first year of more to come!

Check out:

Sugar Hill Museum - kids

(Photo: Michael Palma Mir)

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