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Show and Tell: The New Tacoma Art Museum

Art and art-making for all ages

Published on: November 21, 2014

“I know what TAM stands for,” declared my 9-year-old son. We were wrapping up an afternoon at the newly expanded Tacoma Art Museum and my two boys were talking about their favorite pieces of Western art and marveling at being set loose in the new studio space to create their own art. Naturally, my 11-year-old rolled his eyes and declared, “We ALL know what it stands for.” Undaunted, his brother declared, “Well, I think it really stands for think about more.”

Indeed, "think about more" would be a good slogan for the new TAM. With a redesigned plaza, an expanded lobby with a new art studio, and new galleries housing a large collection of Western art, the museum offers even more for visitors of all ages lots to look at and contemplate.

Julianna Verboot, Tacoma Art Museum's public relations manager, explained that the addition of the Haub Family Galleries added 16,000 square feet, doubling the previous gallery space. The new art studio on the main floor (free to visitors, no admission required) is also a much brighter and bigger room than the previous space. If taking the kids to an art museum sounds intimidating to you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how inviting the new TAM feels. 

Haub Family Galleries

SCharles Schreyvogel, The Last Drop, 1900. Oil on canvas

The centerpiece of the new TAM is the Haub Family Galleries, which showcase a collection of more than 200 pieces of Western American art donated by Ervian and Helga Haub and the Haub family. The opening exhibit for the gallery, Art of the American West, features more than

Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of George Washington, circa 1797.
Oil on canvas
art George. George Washington

130 works, including from well-known artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Remington.

But if you think Western Art is all cowboys and Remington paintings, you’ll be surprised. While there are some instantly recognizable pieces, you’ll see art in all styles from traditional oil paintings hundreds of years old to modern works with a pop art look.

My children were delighted to spot the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington — the same likeness that was used for the dollar bill. There are also walls dedicated to paintings of kid-friendly subjects such as buffalo, horses and national parks. My boys identified favorites and insist I look at them more closely. 

Charles Bird King (American, 1785 1862) Wanata (The Charger), Grand Chief of the Sioux, 1826 Oil on canvas

The presentation of the exhibit is thoughtful. For example, some works in the collection depict Native Americans in ways that could be perceived as stereotypical. To address this issue, TAM invited local Native Americans to write their impressions and perspectives after viewing certain pieces.

Though there has been some controversy around both the paintings and the written reactions (displayed as well text), the overall impression is that the curator wanted to make visitors think.

Laura Fry, the Haub curator, explains, "I wanted to invite contemporary Native individuals to respond to the works in the new galleries ... to show visitors that Native cultures are still alive and changing, to start a dialogue." Julianna Verboot, the museum's public relations coordinator, says that the feedback on the wall text has been positive, with visitors commenting that the labels provided important context.

For older children, this context can easily lead to a discussion on how our society incorporates and respects a diversity of cultures.

New, free art studio

The highlight of the new TAM for most children will be the new studio space on the first floor, where artists of all ages can draw and paint.

It’s free and open to the public during museum hours (no museum admission required). My children were thrilled to have free access to paper and a variety of art supplies including pencils, crayons, paper punches and watercolor paints.

Young artists can hang their finished work on the magnetic wall and move around frames to curate their own gallery. It’s a flexible space designed to encourage interaction and creativity. My boys could have stayed here all day.

The new TAM still includes old favorites, including a large collection of Chihuly glass and Northwest Art.

Tips for visiting the museum

- Because art can be damaged by fingerprints, a visit to the galleries is best for elementary-age children, or younger children who can understand rules about touching.

- Be sure to ask for the “Goody bag” when you pay for your admission. It includes a pamphlet that explains the rules in a friendly fashion, as well as a sketch pad and pencil that will give your children something to do with their hands and a way to respond to the art.

- There are new family restrooms on the main floor across from the studio space.

- There is also a gift shop on the main floor. It’s not impossible to skip, but if it would be hard to leave without a stuffed buffalo toy, consider yourself warned.

If you go ...

Where: Tacoma Art Museum is at 1701 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma

Hours: Tuesday–Sunday from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Admission: $14 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and free for children 5 and younger. A family rate of $35 for two adults and up to 4 children under 18 is also available. 

Discounts: The museum is free on third Thursday evenings as part of Art Walk. Families can also go for free with an Art Access pass available through local library systems. The TAM site has additional information about discounts for families wishing to visit multiple museums.

Art studio: No admission is required to visit the art studio or the café.

Snacks: Food and drink aren’t allowed in the galleries, but you can eat in the café adjacent to the studio. Kids’ meals include fruit and chips and are around $5. Other nearby dining options include The Harmon and The Old Spaghetti Factory.

Parking: There are two parking lots on the street below the museum. Park in a TAM spot and pay $2 per hour at the kiosk before the entry. Display your receipt on your dash before you ride the elevator to the main floor.

Skating: During the holiday season the studio space looks out towards the Franciscan Polar Plaza, an annual temporary, outdoor skating rink presented by TAM. If you’d like to take a spin, check their website or Facebook page for specials. The best deal for children is on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m.–noon when you register through the Children’s Museum of Tacoma (admission just $5, which includes skate rental). Be sure to get double-bladed skates for your children. Otherwise, regular admission is $8 and $4 for children 5 and under. Skate rental is $2. 

Nearby sites: TAM is one of several museums in the area. If you have the stamina, you may want to visit The Children’s Museum of Tacoma, The Museum of Glass, or the Washington State History Museum. Admission to the Children's Museum is still by donation and would be a good choice if your younger culture vultures need to blow off some steam. Ride the Link to navigate between destinations.

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