Charlton Street between Hudson and Greenwich streets is an unassuming Manhattan block, populated by parked cars and passersby. But step inside the Children’s Museum of the Arts, and you are transported to a world of bright color and boundless energy. There, you’ll find kids of all ages looking at art, learning about art, making their own art, and bouncing gleefully on giant rubber balls.
Clearly, this is no ordinary museum.
It has been just more than a year since the archive moved to its new location at 103 Charlton St. from its previous home on Lafayette Street. Having nearly triple the amount of space has allowed the curatorial and educational staffs — as well as their young visitors — to really spread their wings.
“It was a great opportunity for us to be able to design a new space to meet all our imperatives,” says Lucy Ofiesh, the museum’s director of Development. “We were able to expand and update our exhibition space, and add classrooms to offer more after school and weekend workshops.”
Enter the museum to find a 2,000-square-foot exhibition space, where artwork is just as likely to be suspended from the ceiling as it is hung on the walls. This month, for example, 26 sculptural “Letter Racers” by legendary graffiti artist RAMMELLZEE float overhead, while his found-object figurines fill a display case and his large-scale paintings line the walls.
The imaginative RAMMELLZEE Galaxseum is on view through Feb. 3, and will be followed on Feb. 7 by Face to Face, an exploration of children’s self-portraits from around the world. The main gallery will be closed from Feb. 4 to 6 for installation of the new show, with an opening reception on Thursday, Feb. 7, from 4 to 6 pm, during the museum’s pay-as-you-wish hours.
As with all of the museum’s exhibitions, interactive stations invite children to try their hand at the media they see around them. After viewing Face to Face, children will be able to take pictures of themselves in the Media Lab to be projected onto the wall, or they can stop by the self-portrait table, where different kinds of mirrors offer different perspectives of facial features: realistic, cubist, and abstract.
“What’s special for kids visiting our museum is that it’s about more than just looking at art,” observes Valerie Kharchenko, manager of Education Programs. “It’s about looking and then making their own creations based on what they have seen, and learning that their art is just as important as what’s in the exhibits.”
Open workshops held during museum hours in the light-filled Fine Art Studio let kids experiment further with a variety of materials. Professional artists are on hand to teach techniques and offer guidance. A Clay Bar offers yet another opportunity for hands-on learning with tactile materials. Children 5 and under will want to stop by the WEE Arts Studio, where tables and chairs are scaled specifically for them, and projects and materials are better suited for tiny hands.
Parents of children with special needs will find a number of inclusive programs at the museum, including Stripes, for children on the autism spectrum. Held three Saturdays a month from 9:30 to 11 am (before the museum’s regular — and more hectic! — hours), Stripes helps improve motor skills while offering an outlet for self-expression. Inclusive weekend classes, held most Sundays from 1 to 3 pm, invite physically challenged kids and their siblings or friends to make art in a social setting. This month’s themes are Stop-Motion Animation: Quiet Winter World on Feb. 10 and Sculpt It: Clay Works on Feb. 17. ARTogether invites families receiving preventive care, or in the foster care system working toward reunification, to bond and play in a safe, fun environment. Appointments for ARTogether are made on an individual basis, so anyone interesting in participating can contact the museum directly.
“Our aim is to provide an immersive experience to young artists of all backgrounds and abilities,” Lucy Ofiesh points out.
The museum also has a wide range of classes taught by working artists. WEE Arts attracts the 5 and under set with morning and afternoon classes that frequently incorporate music and storytelling. There is a drop-in option for WEE Arts as well, allowing parents and caregivers greater flexibility. After-school classes for kids 5 to 12 are held from 4 to 5:30 pm on Monday through Thursday. Illustration, Exploring Media Lab, and Drawing and Sculpture are a sampling of the spring 2013 schedule. The At 5 Program for 13- to 15-year-olds meets on Monday evenings from 5 to 7 pm.
During school breaks and summer vacation, the museum offers “Art Colony” Day Camp, with themes that change from week to week. For the upcoming private school spring break (March 18 to 22) kids 6 to 12 can choose between Claymation and Bookmaking. Animated Shorts and Printmaking will be taught during public and private school spring break (March 25 to 29). Week-long summer sessions are held from June 10 to Aug. 30, both at the museum, for children 6 to 13, and on Governor’s Island, for kids 8 to 15. Ceramics, Fashion Design, Fairy-Tale Films, Landscape Painting, and Origami are just a few of the subjects to be covered.
And what about those giant rubber balls? You’ll find them in the museum’s popular “Ball Pond,” a great place for kids to burn off energy after focusing intently on colorful exhibitions and creative projects. Each hour, the Ball Pond is divided into three 20-minute intervals, grouping children by age for safety. Children 4 and under bounce at the top of the hour, followed by 5 to 7, and finally ages 8 and up enjoy the final 20 minutes.
If all of this isn’t enough to convince you to visit the Children’s Museum of the Arts, consider the reviews given by my own children during their first trip to the museum last month.
My 9-year-old son, Ian, summed it up in a word: “Awesome!” His 5-year-old sister, Sage, while happily smudging pastels in the style of Mark Rothko, proclaimed, “Ian, isn’t this so fun?”
The Children’s Museum of the Arts [103 Charlton St. between Greenwich and Hudson streets in Manhattan, (212) 274-0986; cmany.org]. Admission $11; free members, infants, and ages 65 and older. Pay-as-you-wish Thursday, from 4 to 6 pm.
Marie Hueston is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn.
©2013 Community News Group
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