Joseph Grygiel, 5, of Seattle, makes crepe paper flowers in the Tacoma Art Museum studio. Photo credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Kids’ art is such a staple activity of the preschool and early elementary years that it’s a cliché — parents joke about tossing all those art projects in the recycling bin when the kids aren’t looking. But observing and learning about fine art is a different story: Many families find art museums an overwhelming (and expensive) experience that can feel inaccessible.
An innovative new partnership between Children’s Museum of Tacoma (CMT) and Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) aims to change that paradigm by slashing financial barriers and connecting the dots between hands-on art and art appreciation for families. Located just one block from each other, the two institutions recently launched a two-year program to engage kids in art activities at Children’s Museum of Tacoma that are directly related to some of Tacoma Art Museum’s most accessible exhibits and works of art. Families will then receive free passes to visit TAM, which they can redeem on that day or another day. Five hundred passes are available annually.
“An art museum can seem like a daunting place to parents of little ones, but Tacoma Art Museum wants to connect people of all ages through art. We've worked with Children’s Museum of Tacoma to develop a program that provides a fun, easy and relevant experience to inspire even the youngest learners,” said Samantha Kelly, director of education and community engagement at Tacoma Art Museum.
The museums have long been collaborative, but this “partnership would fundamentally change the way that both institutions approach their work,” said Kelly. Educators will work closely together to craft art activities that enhance children's learning around art and creative expression.
The other important piece, said Tanya Andrews, executive director at CMT, is that “both institutions believe fiercely in access.” CMT has long had a pay-as-you-can policy that allows it to never turn families away; now financial barriers for families who want to visit TAM have been lowered as well.
The partnership is supported by the Hoffman and Driscoll families in honor of Susan F. Hoffman, whose career was dedicated to education, both in the arts and social issues.
Make art, see art, talk about art: How it works
CMT is always a big draw for families; on a recent Sunday afternoon, exuberant kid energy was high as children played in the water playscape, banged around in the Woods area and made valentines in Becka's Studio. While in the studio, kids can now also do hands-on art activities that directly relate to works of art on view at TAM. Current options — ranging from making driftwood sculptures to practicing sumi line art — are drawn from an exhibition of 60 Northwest works of sculpture, painting and studio glass titled The Beauty of a Shared Passion: Highlights from the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection.
Families will then receive a free Family Pass to visit TAM and experience these works of art in-person (the passes are good for a year). At TAM, families can pick up a Family Explorer Pack, which offers fun, age-appropriate activities to guide families through the museum. Families can make more art in TAM's spacious art studio on the first floor (which is always free admission and already a big draw for families), or head to an exhibition.
A current highlight at TAM is the newly opened portrait exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, titled The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today. This wide-ranging collection depicts a variety of compelling and relatable subjects (immigrants, transgender kids, hospice patients) in media ranging from collage to photos to oil painting. Each is accompanied by a placard in English and Spanish that tells the story of both the subject and the photographer.
You can see how a family who came from CMT to check out one or two things at TAM might find themselves lingering at an exhibition like The Outwin for an hour or more, and even talking about it that evening.
This program, said Julianna Verboort, public relations and communications manager of TAM, is a chance for children to become more comfortable in an art museum and all the wonder and learning it inspires.
“It's an opportunity to teach [kids] that they can be active with respectful parameters — and that an art museum isn’t a monastery; it's a great place for conversation.”
If you go ...
Hours: Children's Museum of Tacoma: Wednesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; third Thursday open until 7 p.m. Tacoma Art Museum: Tuesday–Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Free Third Thursday 5 p,m.–8 p.m.
Admission: CMT offers pay-as-you-will admission, allowing families to donate what is right for them. TAM’s current admission rates are $15 adult, $13 student, children 5 and under free, or $40 per family with two adults and up to four children under age 18.
The new CMT-TAM partnership results in a savings of $15–$40 per family at TAM.
Special events: Don't miss the free community portrait festival at TAM on March 5.
Other things to do in Tacoma: Grab soups and sandwiches at TAM’s cafe, or grab something sweet from Hello, Cupcake (1740 Pacific Avenue). And it's a hop and skip to other awesome Tacoma museums, including Washington State History Museum, the Museum of Glass and LeMay America's Car Museum.