The Metropolitan Museum of Art is no dour echo chamber. Most art museums specialize in tomb-like solemnity, but the Met, with its Great Hall decorated daily with fresh flowers, resonates with upbeat voices that instantly slap down any idea of a menacing cultural encounter. At the Met, even Wednesdays have a Sunday-in-the-park feeling. A similar sense of pleasure marks the museum's programs for kids and families. On both weekdays and weekends, a series of four drop-in programs makes use of storytelling, sketching, and good old questions and comments to bring kids into contact with the distinguished institution's collections. “Collections” — plural — is the word. Anyone who has ever visited the Met knows that it’s best to know beforehand what you’d like to see. (If you’ve ever visited for even five minutes, you’ve pledged to yourself that next time you’re going to map out your day in advance). That’s the beauty of the museum’s family programs: you are guided, so your kids won’t be bewildered by a blur of cultural history. If your own head spins at the idea of van Gogh and the Southern Sung dynasty being under the same roof, then just imagine how fast your kid’s head must whirl. “It’s an enthusiasm and a welcoming toward the family,” concedes Dr. Mike Norris, associate museum educator and coordinator of museum family programs, of the Met’s philosophy toward education for the young. “We try to get great teachers who are enthusiastic about art and have experience with it.” The Met is confident enough in its approach to tackle an age group that many museums would shrink from: the very young. Now in its fourth year, “Start With Art” is designed specifically for ages 3-7 — not exactly the kind of group one would expect to drool over creative work. The key, according to Norris, is not to put the focus on the art, but on the people who surround it. “Let’s face it,” he says, “there’s really no reason for a 3-year-old to look at art. They’re interested in people; you have to put the focus on the people. If they like the instructor — if the instructor is active, passionate about art and seems bigger than life — then you have a chance to get them interested.” The subjects of the four programs — “Start With Art”, “Look Again!”, “Hello, Met!” and “Art Evenings for Families” — can be as varied as the museum’s 17 curatorial departments since the teachers are sometimes allowed to work from the areas they’re most comfortable with. Although the instructors often work with themes (such as animals) that kids might enjoy, it’s the parents who are most heavily targeted. As Norris points out, “The topics aren’t to intrigue the kids, but the parents. Kids get a charge out of enjoying things with their parents, and our feedback, which is important, has to come from the parents.” “Start With Art” offers 60 minutes of artistic contact through storytelling (verbal, or with picture books) and sketching activities. The goal here is to reach the first step: to get the youngest children to look. For ages 5-12, the appropriately titled “Look Again!” is something of an expanded version of “Start”. Running 90 minutes, it again uses casual sketching, Q&A, and conversation, only from an historical and cross-cultural perspective. Also for ages 5-12, “Hello, Met!” puts some of the museum’s masterpieces in the spotlight. “Art Evenings for Families”, for ages 6-12, provides the more composed 6pm-7pm timeframe for looking, thinking and talking. (Once a month, “Look Again!” and “Evenings” offer performance segments relating to the topic at hand — a Renaissance dancer, for example). All four programs are drop-in and offered FREE with museum admission. For program times and information, go to www.metmuseum.org.
Info: Where: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street) When: Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30am-5:30pm; Friday-Saturday, 9:30am-9pm; Sunday, 9:30am-5:30pm. Closed Mondays. How much: (Suggested) Adults, $12; students and seniors, $7; children under 12 in the company of an adult, FREE For more info: (212) 535-7710; www.metmuseum.org