The Whitney Museum

When you’re looking for a novel way to spend a summer day with the kids, consider a visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new location in the Meatpacking District.

The Whitney concluded its use of its old facility on Madison Avenue at 75th Street and opened the doors of its new location on May 1. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the new space is at the south entrance of the High Line Park, on Gansevoort Street. The new-and-improved Whitney now has more exhibition and programming space, boasting 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space; there’s also an education center, a multi-use theater, conservation lab, and library reading room.

Philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded the Whitney 85 years ago, and over that time, the museum has amassed the largest collection of American art from the 20th and 21st centuries. Since its beginning, the museum has been committed to artists, with a focus on highlighting the most innovative art of the United States. The Whitney has also been an important influence on modern and contemporary American art, especially through its signature exhibition, the Biennial, which is a celebration of the complexity and diversity of art and culture in the United States.

The core of the Whitney’s mission is to collect, preserve, interpret, and exhibit American art and serve a wide variety of audiences — including families. For decades, the museum has offered programming for families, small children, teens and individuals with special needs (including children). Throughout the year, Whitney Family Programs offer tours, workshops, and events that encourage parents and their children to learn together.

On select weekends, “open studio” is available for families to drop-in during their visit to create their own artwork. The museum also has an activity guide for patrons with children that highlights an artwork from each floor and includes an activity related to each. If you want to preview the collection before your visit, simply check it out on the website.

The museum also offers families a special opportunity to interact with artists in a series called “Artist’s Choice.” This program brings artists and families together to share their ideas and create artwork inspired by the galleries. Families participate in a discussion, led by the artist, and then move to the art-making. The goal is to explore the process and materials used in art-making together.

The Whitney also invites families with kids on the autism spectrum to join in the fun. The museum offers a guided, sensory-friendly gallery tour before it opens to the general public to provide a more intimate setting for families. Families have the opportunity to create their own works of art in a hands-on studio activity.

I spoke to the Whitney’s Manager of School, Youth, and Family Programs, Heather Maxson, about how to help your children get the most out of a visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Shnieka Johnson: How can parents prepare their kids for a visit to the new space?

Heather Maxson: Parents can visit www.whitney.org/families to find out information on planning a visit.

SJ: What resources are available for families?

HM: If you choose to visit the Whitney with your family on your own, we offer a free kids audio guide and a free kids activity guide with drawing activities, writing prompts, discussion questions, and more.

SJ: What tours and programming will the Whitney offer families?

HM: Whitney Family Programs offer a wide array of tours, workshops, and events for kids of all ages, three weekends a month. For more information, families can visit www.whitney.org/families.

SJ: Will you share a little about your teen programs?

HM: Teen programs at the Whitney give a diverse group of New York City high school students the opportunity to discuss art critically, think creatively, and make art with contemporary artists, educators, and their peers. We offer semester-long programs, a year-long leadership program, summer programs, as well as drop-in events and programs for all city teens. Visit www.whitney.org/teens for more information.

SJ: Are camps going to be offered?

HM: No, but we will continue programming throughout the summer. This summer, city families are invited to check out the Whitney’s new building and participate in interactive tours, drop-in art-making workshops, and programs led by artists. These include sketching tours, which encourage families with kids — ages 6–10 — to experiment with drawing techniques together, and Whitney Wees, interactive tours that are full of activities just right for kids ages 4–5. Families can also drop-in to make art at our Open Studio art making workshops in the Hearst Artspace. In July and August, we will also offer special artist-led programs that focus on drawing and performance art.

The Whitney Museum of American Art [99 Gansevoort St. between 10th Avenue and Washington Street, in the Meatpacking District, (212) 570–3600, whitney.org]. Adults $22, seniors and students $18, children free. Members free. Activity guide: whitney.org/file_columns/0006/9178/whitney_inauguralactivityguide_may2015.pdf.

Shnieka Johnson is an education consultant and freelance writer. She is based in Manhattan, where she resides with her husband and son. Contact her via her website, www.shniekajohnson.com.

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