One of the widely known secrets in New York City is the free admission days to its top museums, when lines of people wrap around a block (for hours and in all weather) for entrée. With admission running up to $25, it definitely can be worth the wait. But, if you have children, there is another way to gain gratis admission and also, engage your kids in art. The free MoMA Family Gallery Talks on Saturday and Sunday mornings give you access to the exhibits as well as the brain power of their Education Department.
One Saturday, after rousing and feeding my 4-year-old son, we raced to the subway, and miraculously made it to the museum by 9:45am. We hightailed it down the block, expecting long lines and bedlam, but when we spun through the revolving door, we found a scene of serenity. A handful of families sat drawing calmly on couches, and a line of volunteers with clipboards stood at the helm. “Good morning,” one of them smiled. “Let me show you to your locker.” This volunteer (who undoubtedly loved her job), gave our son a variety of papers and crayons to draw with while we waited.
We were grouped in the “Tours For Fours” program, while other aged children were shuffled into “A Closer Look For Kids” groups. Our patient educator welcomed us (and the four other families in our group) to the museum. Each educator could theoretically handle up to 25 kids and their families, and they assured me that often it does get more crowded. But, based on what we saw, they have the organizational skills to direct an army.
Each month, a new theme is introduced; this month was “Breaking the Mold: Materials and Techniques.” After circling up and going over the rules of the museum, our educator handed out textured worksheets, showing Smooth, Rough, Bumpy and Soft. After having the kids touch the different materials, she led us through the exhibit, Isa Genzken: Retrospective.
I wasn’t familiar with this German artist, mostly known for her assemblage sculptures, which lent itself perfectly to the topic of discussion. We sat, looked closely and discussed three of her diverse works. The kids got a chance to move their bodies into the sculpture shapes, create their own objects out of textured paper, and do crayon rubbings of the floor of the MoMA. The four-year-olds were all engaged in the activities, but I was also surprised by the kids’ insights of the discussions. Some ideas were hilarious, others were absurd…but our educator took every thought seriously and treated every young scholar with respect. When the hour-long tour was finished, I think we all learned something about the artist, and (more importantly) about looking at art. Our educator left us to continue looking around the galleries, but not before handing every participant a Claes Oldenburg cheeseburger postcard and a free family pass to come back to the museum. What a deal!
The Two Cheeseburgers, with Everything postcard made us hungry for, what else?… burgers. So, keeping with the NYC secrets theme, we headed for Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridien Hotel. This hidden restaurant–literally behind a velvet curtain off the lobby–is a cheeseburger paradise. In fact, that’s all they serve, along with french fries and boxed wine. (If you don’t eat meat, you can order the cheeseburger without the meat a la grilled cheese.) But the cool atmosphere, graffiti-covered walls, and eclectic music take this one notch above your normal burger joint.
MoMA Family Talks, The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, 4 West 54 Street (near Fifth Avenue) Saturdays and Sundays, 10:20–11:15am. Free. Tickets are distributed at the Education and Research Building reception desk starting at 10am on a first-come, first-served basis.
Burger Joint inside Le Parker Meridien hotel, 119 W. 56th Street. (between Ave. of Americas and 7th Avenue) Hours: Sunday- Thursday 11:00am- 11:30pm; Friday and Saturday 11am- 12am