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Art to Heart

The Evolving Art Museum

Take a preschooler to an art museum? Absolutely! In fact, in recent years, art museums have become more valuable than ever as resources to both parents and teachers of young children.

Why? Because across the United States, art museums are making extraordinary efforts to attract families as well as to be educational partners with teachers.

How? With interactive exhibits. Hands-on galleries and events. Special classes, camps, and tours. Guidebooks and teacher kits. Even changing tables in the restrooms and snack areas.

For example, the Speed Art Museum in Louisville-one of the museums featured in Art to Heart-added an entire interactive gallery called Art Sparks, with a wide variety of creative activities. In this special space in the museum's lower level, children can jump into dozens of creative activities-from playing dress-up in a period cloak and creating rubbings to dancing inside a "video artwork" and exploring Kiddy Face, an interactive computer program that lets kids manipulate images of works from the collection. There's even a special area called Planet Preschool for the 5 and under group.

A Change in Attitude

Adding Art Sparks, along with family tours and guide materials, was a concerted effort to reach out to families. The space also serves as an art learning center for school groups, as an accompaniment to tours of the Speed's main galleries and exhibits.

"The museum culture has changed," explains Cynthia Moreno, the Speed's curator of education. "There's a major effort to make the museum a friendlier, more workable place for families."

That attitude is echoed at major museums from Los Angeles to New York. "Art museums have come a long way in catering to kids," says Miriam Arond, editor-in-chief of Child magazine. In February 2006, the magazine surveyed more than 100 museums and found all kinds of cool exhibits and programs.

See Museum Activities for Young Children for advice on planning a trip to an art museum with kids.

Top 10 for Kids

Child magazine's list of "The 10 Best Art Museums for Kids" was topped by the Art Institute of Chicago, which opened its first children's gallery in 1926. Today's family-friendly features include a Touch Gallery, a state-of-the-art Kraft Education Center, "mini-masters" classes for 3- to 5-year-olds, and Family Art Camps.

Other museums on the Top 10 list:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • Dayton Art Institute
  • De Young Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco
  • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha
  • Winterthur Museum and Country Estate, Delaware
  • Dallas Museum of Art
  • Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA

Louisville's Speed Art Museum was high on the list of 25 runners-up.

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