An Art Show for Kids, Designed to Bring Out Their Inner Matisse


Your child may already be familiar with artist Sean Quallis, who illustrated Gilant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, and Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison. Photo: Ground Floor Gallery

Your child may already be familiar with artist Sean Quallis, who illustrated the children’s books “Giant Steps to Change the World” by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, and “Little Cloud and Lady Wind” by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison. Photo: Ground Floor Gallery

The hunt for a way to introduce your children to the art world is over. Ground Floor Gallery in Park Slope has curated a show that will appeal specifically to kids. “Mini Matisse,” a pop-up group show running the weekend of May 16-17, will feature painters, book illustrators, and textile designers who explore kid-friendly themes like woodland animals, anthropomorphic animals, and dinosaurs. And if you have a budding artist at home, this show is B.Y.O.D.–Bring Your Own Drawing.

“This is a chance for kids, our next generation of makers, to contribute to a bona fide art exhibition, in a Brooklyn gallery, no less,” said GFG co-founder Krista Saunders Scenna. Children are invited to drop off any 2-D artwork (such as a painting, drawing, or collage) measuring no more than 8 x 11” on Saturday, May 16 – Sunday, May 17 between 12 – 6pm. The gallery will document each young artist beside their artwork on the wall and then take an installation shot of works together at the end of the day on Sunday. For those who forgot their work at home, Brooklyn Craft Farm will be onsite to help kids tap into their creative possibilities.

The show is just another example of the way that Ground Floor Gallery, which also holds a popular, affordable art sale around the holidays, strives to make contemporary art and artists accessible to the art-curious. We spoke to Krista Saunders Scenna and Jill Benson, the co-founders of the gallery, about art in New York geared toward kids.

BB: Where did you get the idea for the “Mini-Matisse” show? 

GFG: Working and living out of Park Slope (our Co-Director, Jill, has been here for just over 10 years!), it’s impossible not to notice and appreciate what a family-friendly neighborhood it’s become over the years.  Several of our clients stop in to buy prints or small paintings/drawings for their kids’ bedrooms.  Our neighbors also buy small artworks as gifts throughout the year–especially during our popular holiday show. We decided to create a fun, weekend shopping experience just for the kids! Art is something the parents around here want their kids to be around and, of course, we support that 110%!

Artist Kristiana Parn's work is inspired by the woods of Estonia, where she grew up. "These scenes are places of great play and whimsy, where woodland animals inhabit the waking and dreaming worlds." Photo: Ground Floor Gallery

Artist Kristiana Parn’s work is inspired by the woods of Estonia, where she grew up. Photo: Ground Floor Gallery

BB: How will this show be kid-friendly? 

GFG: We think the B.Y.O.D.–Bring Your Own Drawing concept has the most kid-friendly appeal.  We’re asking kids of all ages to bring their own drawing, painting, collage or other artwork to hang on our main exhibition wall for the duration of the show.  We’re calling it the “Mini-Matisse” wall since it will evolve into a colorful, layered collage by the time the show comes down on Sunday. The kids can sign their work, hang it, and take a photo with it just as professional artists (like Matisse!) have done. In general, we’re selecting original artwork by local artists who utilize color, vibrant forms, family-oriented scenes and, of course, animal motifs to express a variety of themes and moods. We’ve seen kids respond favorably to these particular artists (looking, pointing, asking questions) which shows that they’re connecting to this work in particular.

BB: How did you find and choose the featured artists for the show? 

GFG: We’ve been independently curating shows together since 2009 and running the gallery for two years so, at this point, our artist network is pretty extensive. Most of the artists in “Mini-Matisse” are artists we’ve worked with recently or met through other artists and community referrals. We know from experience that kids and parents are drawn to these artists’ work. Then, it was a matter of selecting a cohesive yet varied collection of work to show and thinking through the layout (what goes where and how to make the artist’s work really shine). We’re also looking forward to the “B.Y.O.D.” element as we’ve never curated an interactive show like this where the exhibition will evolve as the weekend progresses.

BB: Galleries can be an intimidating place for parents to bring kids. What are some ideas for our readers to make seeing art with kids more approachable? 

GFG: That’s a great question! We know we’re biased but visiting and supporting smaller, neighborhood galleries like ours are a great start. Since we’re part of the fabric of a residential neighborhood, we blend in more than your typical art gallery and engage our visitors of ALL ages with questions and insights about the artists. Jill and I have also been long time Family Day volunteers at the New Museum.  Once a month, we work with their education staff to help facilitate a hands-on activity for kids (from babies to tweens). The museum always designs an approachable Family Day to get families involved with the current exhibition. I’m sure the Brooklyn Museum offers similar opportunities for families nearby! [Ed. Note: They do. We’re also fond of the MoMa family program ourselves.] The staff and volunteers like us who elect to work with children help create a more inviting atmosphere and know how to make art fun.

Artist Caroline Marshall Hill  depicts surreal urban images that kids are naturally drawn to. Photo: Ground Floor Gallery

Artist Caroline Marshall Hill depicts surreal urban images that kids are naturally drawn to. Photo: Ground Floor Gallery

BB: As gallery owners, what tips do you have for parents on looking at art with their kids and teaching appreciation (especially for things kids might not “like” right away.) 

GFG: First, observe your kids.  Take them to see a variety of shows and artists just see what they respond to (it’s about them, not your taste here!). We see it here all the time.  Kids will literally pull their parents and caretakers in off the street after one of our installations catches their eye!  Once they’re in the space, they stay a while and get close to the work that attracts them. Then, ask questions.  Not “Do you like it?” But “Why do you like it?”  “Is it the color? the shapes?”  “Does it remind you of something/someone?”  It’s equally as important to ask them why they DON’T like something.  Artists want us to respond to their work.  A neutral response is actually worse than a negative one!

BB: Anything else you’d like to add? 

GFG: Next time you or someone you know is on the verge of buying that generic print or poster from IKEA or Loews, send them our way! You can spend the same amount of money–or less–on an original artwork by an up-and-coming local artist living in our beautiful borough!

“Mini- Matisse”- Ground Floor Gallery, 343 5th St., off 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Saturday May 16- Sunday May 17th 12pm to 6pm.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)