Art, for kids, is not an abstract. It’s what they do Ã¢â‚¬â€ with finger paints, crayons, Play-Doh and even their mashed potatoes. And what are picture books, but page after page of wonderful illustrations that invite children to revel in the imaginative possibilities of art? As a mom, I want to inspire Pumpkin to delight in the art that she creates as well as the art of others. The first Baby Einstein DVD I bought was “Baby Van Gogh.” When “Starry Night” comes on the TV screen, it makes me happy to think the painting will be part of her visual lexicon Ã¢â‚¬â€ and I’m looking forward to taking her to see the original at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Our first museum trip was to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While she certainly had a great time running around the vast galleries of 20th-century paintings and sculpture, I don’t know how much she absorbed. Our next step will be the cozier Katonah Museum of Art, which is just a few short miles from my home. The current exhibit, “Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art” is a natural for any child who has cracked open a book.
Today’s Questions & Parents feature, or Q&P for short, is with Neil Watson, executive director of the Katonah Museum of Art. Neil, a resident of Katonah, kindly offers his insight for introducing children to art museums Ã¢â‚¬â€ and gives useful tips on the best ways to make the experience pleasurable for everyone. (A full stomach is a must.) Neil also tells us what it’s been like to be a museum executive and the father of a 6-year-old art lover named Cleo. This picture below shows the pair in 2003 at the Museum of Glass, where Neil was chief curator. They are wearing goggles because they were on the floor with artists while they were blowing glass.
Q: People often think of art galleries and museums as places that are quiet and contemplative Ã¢â‚¬â€ not adjectives you’d use to describe the atmosphere around most kids. Do children belong there?
P: The Katonah Museum welcomes children and families. For each exhibition, our education department creates unique activities and projects for children as a way to engage in the art. These activities provide a way for children to channel their energy appropriately, to learn about looking at and seeing art and to have fun, which we hope translates into wanting to come back!
Q: What should a parent do if a fellow art patron seems unhappy with youthful exuberance?
P: Bringing children to a museum is similar to taking them out to eat at a restaurant or to a movie. If parents prepare their children for what is acceptable behavior in these settings, then half the battle is won. At the Katonah Museum, we have a dedicated learning center where parents and children can enthusiastically engage in coloring, drawing and creating their own art. And we have an outdoor sculpture garden where children can frolic should they get the urge.
Q: Is there an ideal age to start taking children to art galleries and museums? Does it depend on the museum? For example, the Museum of Modern Art versus the Metropolitan Museum versus a smaller venue like the Katonah Museum of Art?
P: Like people, each museum has a personality all its own. I think a museum that is the scale of the Katonah Museum is actually a terrific way to introduce youngsters to art viewing because it is not overwhelming and the exhibitions are designed to engage visitors of all ages.
Q: Is there a time of day that’s best to bring kids? How long should a visit be?
P: I think we all appreciate looking at art when weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not tired or hungry, when we can focus our attention and engage. For some of us thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s earlier in the day Ã¢â‚¬â€ during the week we open at 10 Ã¢â‚¬â€ or after lunch. In the Learning Center on Saturdays, the museum has a free story time at 10:30. On Saturdays and Sundays at 1, there is a free Ã¢â‚¬Å“See and DoÃ¢â‚¬? art activity, so those are also good times for families to visit the museum.
Q: How can parents help their kids connect with the art in a museum?
P: One great thing parents can do is to prepare themselves before a visit is to take a look at a museumÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Web site and familiarize themselves with the exhibition they are going to see. Is it appropriate for children? Does their child have a special interest that the exhibition speaks to? For larger institutions, knowing things like where the bathrooms are or if there is a restaurant can be very helpful. Parents can even print out materials for their children to read or look at on the journey to the museum and allow their child to set the agenda for the visit.
Q: When did you introduce Cleo to art galleries and museums? Which have been her favorites and what has made the experiences special?
P: My wife, Jude, who is a writer, and I moved, with Cleo, in 2001 from West Palm Beach, Fla., to the Pacific Northwest, when Cleo was 6 weeks old. I was hired as the chief curator at the brand new, not-yet-opened Museum of Glass, in Tacoma, Wash. Cleo was going to gallery openings in Seattle by the time she was 4 months old. She attended the opening of the Museum of Glass in 2002 and has been going to galleries and museums ever since. Cleo does have a certain allegiance to the Katonah Museum, as she will point out, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Daddy, after all, I am a member.Ã¢â‚¬? And she is.
Cleo has always enjoyed the KMAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Learning Center and the Sculpture Garden. While she has been to many museums, Cleo is partial to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and loves the Egyptian galleries specifically Ã¢â‚¬â€ itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the mummies that get her, and, of course, the knights and armor galleries. Cleo and I went to the Met this past spring and we took the audio tour, which is self-guided, fun and educational Ã¢â‚¬â€ all in one. Not only did she like the hand-held audio hardware Ã¢â‚¬â€ and Cleo was very adept at plugging in the appropriate audio tour number Ã¢â‚¬â€ she also loved wearing the Ã¢â‚¬Å“ear muffs” (headphones). She was not content to listen to only the family tours that many objects have Ã¢â‚¬â€ she wanted to listen to the regular adult commentaries as well. And she listened to the entire explanation. She also likes the Museum of Modern Art, which, because of the large scale of many contemporary works of art, is fun for kids. The Museum of Natural History is just that, a natural for kids. I would have to say that Cleo truly loves all of the museum stores equally, and she shops!
Q: Have you explored other museums in the Lower Hudson Valley? If so, which are your favorites for kids, and why?
P: I think the Hudson River Museum does an excellent job with kids. The Neuberger Museum of Art is also a great institution, which is part of SUNY Purchase. Across the street from them is the PepsiCo outdoor sculpture park, and that is a great place for kids to run around and see magnificent outdoor sculpture. Although not in lower Westchester, Cleo had a great time at Dia Beacon, which is a 275,000-square-foot museum that was once a printing plant for Nabisco. Dia is a great outing for the entire family, even if you do not know about the art that Dia specializes in, specifically Minimalism from the later 20th century. The space is terrific, and the art is wonderful. It is less than an hour from Katonah. Not far from Dia is the Storm King Art Center, a unique sculpture park, that is primary site-specific, outdoor sculpture, and is just a great deal of fun and awe inspiring for all ages. They have an Andy Goldsworthy stone wall that disappears into a pond that enthralls everyone who sees it.
Q: Can you explain why your new exhibit Ã¢â‚¬â€ “Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art” Ã¢â‚¬â€ is a good one for children? Is there a particular age group that’s best?
P: There are so many ways for children to engage in the “Children Should Be Seen” exhibition. For many, this may be an opportunity to see original art work from some of their favorite story books. For others it may be a chance for them to understand all of the different ways art is made Ã¢â‚¬â€ paintings, collages, drawings, photographs. They may be inspired to write and illustrate their own stories after seeing this exhibition. And for this exhibition, we turned the museumÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Pryor Gallery into a comfy reading room where children can read many of the books that are featured in the exhibition. I think this exhibition appeals to children who are old enough to be read to, and up from there.
Q: How can children benefits from programs at the Katonah Museum of Art’s Learning Center?
P: The Katonah Museum Learning Center is always open for drop-in activities that enhance and expand a visit to the museum. Throughout the year, the museum offers regularly scheduled art classes for children ages 3 to 5, and for children in grades 1 through 5. For more than 20 years, we have hosted a Young Artists exhibition drawn from the work of high school students from Fairfield, Westchester, and Putnam counties.
Thank you very much to Neil for sharing his knowledge by doing a Q&P! If you would like to be featured, or you know any parents who have expertise to share, please comment here on the blog or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
And, in case you missed them, here are links to earlier Q&P features. There are interviews with more than a dozen moms and dads, including a dog trainer dad, financial planner mom, writer mom, mathematician mom, baker mom, environmentalist mom, pediatric dentist mom and a couple of parents who are bicycle experts.