Maybe it's the high price of movie tickets or the proliferation of blockbuster special exhibits. But people are visiting art museums as never before. We're brushing up on our Bruegel and mastering our Modigliani in museums across the country--and we're taking the children. Perhaps ambitious parents are putting art appreciation on their to-do lists, or maybe more adults are simply discovering that attending a museum with their kids can be a wonderful way to spend time together.
Whatever the reason, museum staffs are realizing that to attract families--and future art patrons--it's no longer enough to put a few reproductions in a corner and call it a family room. The appeal of a great collection is strong, but so is a program designed just for parents and kids.
What makes a museum family friendly? First and foremost, it should have a terrific collection that's worth visiting, whether you're with your kids, your Great- Aunt Thelma or your mother's college roommate. Second, it should a make a special effort to welcome parents and children, with everything from activity guides and workshops to facilities set aside just for families. The following museums--only a small sample from dozens across the country--have made an effort to make art inviting and accessible to everyone. At their best, they strive to help you look at art--and perhaps even the world around you--in a new way.
J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM
Kids will probably be hooked right away, since any visit to the Getty, situated high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in Los Angeles, starts with a ride on the child-wowing tram. Designed by Richard Meier, the buildings house a superb collection of paintings, decorative arts, photographs and ancient art, and are worth a visit in and of themselves.
KIDS LOVE: The Central Garden, created by artist Robert Irwin, which changes with the seasons. They flock to Vincent van Gogh's Irises and The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark by Jan Bruegel the Elder. Best of all, kids can view Maria Frederike van Reede-Athlone at Seven by Jean-Etienne Liotard, then go to the Family Room, where there is a reproduction, complete with 18th century period costumes to try on.
ESPECIALLY FOR FAMILIES: Art Adventures for Families, a one-hour interactive tour, will be starting in January. Plus there are Art Detective cards to use in the galleries, as well as game boxes. "Don't be afraid to talk--and to get a little silly," advises Lauren Silver, education specialist for family audiences. "Look at a portrait, and ask your child, 'What would that person say to you?'" www.getty.edu
SEATTLE ART MUSEUM
The Seattle Art Museum has a particularly fine collection of African, Asian and Northwest Coast native art. Settle into a tea ceremony at the Japanese teahouse for some serenity and a taste of another culture.
KIDS LOVE: The Triumph of Valor over Time by Gian Domenico Tiepolo. The painting is installed on the ceiling, and young visitors are urged to lie on their backs to look at it. They also like a coffin from Ghana, shaped like a Mercedes-Benz, for "going out in style."