Mu­seum re­frames kids’ time with art

Ac­tiv­i­ties at the new “Ex­plore! With the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery” ex­hi­bi­tion in­clude draw­ing sil­hou­ettes with a light box, left, and build­ing faces with photo blocks.


While many chil­dren’s mu­se­ums are painted in pri­mary col­ors and fes­tooned with over­sized nuts and bolts, a child-fo­cused space that opens Satur­day at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery has taken a more sub­tle ap­proach.

The ex­hibit, “Ex­plore! With the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery,” aims to be a seam­less ex­ten­sion of the larger mu­seum, says Re­becca Kase­meyer, the gallery’s as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of education and vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence. In a wood-floored gallery space, in­ter­ac­tive ac­tiv­i­ties pre­sented on el­e­gant pedestals in­spire chil­dren to think of them­selves as real artists.

“The goal is for chil­dren to be­gin to think crit­i­cally about the choices artists make and take what they’ve learned into the rest of the mu­seum,” Kase­meyer says.

One of the ac­tiv­i­ties in­vites chil- dren to draw their care­taker’s sil­hou­ette with the aid of a light box and trac­ing pa­per. As the young artists ne­go­ti­ate with their sub­jects’ pref­er­ences — de­cid­ing, for in­stance, whether the model should tilt his or her head up to get rid of a dou­ble chin — they get a feel for the mine­field of van­ity that artists like John Singer-Sar­gent nav­i­gated when de­pict­ing the rich and fa­mous.

An­other ex­hibit, called “Strike a Pose,” lets chil­dren cre­ate self-por­traits in the form of five-sec­ond videos. The videos then ap­pear on a square, 25-screen grid de­signed by New York-based artist Amanda Long. The ac­tiv­ity gets kids to think broadly about por­trai­ture, which can in­clude mov­ing and in­ter­ac­tive im­ages as well as tra­di­tional oil paint­ings, Kase­meyer says.

“I think it ties in nicely to the rest of the mu­seum — es­pe­cially the Bill Vi­ola ex­hi­bi­tion up right now,” Kase­meyer says. “He’s a video artist, and per­haps chil­dren will look dif­fer­ently at his work af­ter mak­ing their own videos.”

The roughly 750-square-foot ex­hi­bi­tion, which is tar­geted to­ward chil­dren 18 months to 8 years old, was pro­duced in partnership with the Ex­plore! Chil­dren’s Mu­seum of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., a mu­seum slated to open in the Fort Tot­ten neigh­bor­hood in 2019. One goal of the Por­trait Gallery’s chil­dren’s ex­hibit — which will run for at least a year — is to give par­ents a taste of what’s to come, says Rhonda Buck­ley-Bishop, the Ex­plore! Chil­dren’s Mu­seum’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive.

“The ex­hibits at the Por­trait Gallery give a pre­view of what we will have at the Ex­plore! Chil­dren’s Mu­seum — play-based learn­ing, with in­struc­tions in English and Span­ish, for chil­dren with dif­fer­ent devel­op­men­tal needs,” Buck­ley-Bishop says.

Buck­ley-Bishop wanted to host the chil­dren’s mu­seum’s pre­view ex­hibit at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery rather than an­other of Wash­ing­ton’s many mu­se­ums be­cause por­trai­ture is a par­tic­u­larly ac­ces­si­ble art form and be­cause of the mu­seum’s Metro-ac­ces­si­ble, Penn Quar­ter lo­ca­tion.

Plus, she thinks the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery’s build­ing is gor­geous. She es­pe­cially loves that the new, jewel-toned chil­dren’s area has a few paint­ings from the gallery’s col­lec­tion hung on the walls, she says.

“I think it’s de­signed per­fectly for chil­dren, but it’s aes­thet­i­cally very pleas­ing for adults, too.”

Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW. Open Tues­day-Sun­day. Free. sadie.dingfelder@wash­

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