Visiting Outdoor, Public Art in and Around Boston with Children
August 21, 2013

by Audrey Trieschman

AMC's Kids Outdoors Boston and Mommy Poppins Boston continue our monthly series of guest blog posts on getting the most out of Boston as a family. Mommy Poppins Boston is a free, online guide written by local parents for families looking for the best things to do, see, read, eat, learn, and play in Boston.

My kids have visited enough museums in their short lives that they now actually look forward to exploring new exhibits, taking part in scavenger hunts, workshops, guided tours and the like. So when I brought up the idea of learning about art but also staying outside and playing, they were more than game. The good news? Accessible, diverse, entertaining (and mostly free!) exhibits can be found throughout the Boston area, all appropriate for visiting with children.

The beauty of looking at outdoor, public art with kids is that, depending on your child’s mood, you can stop and investigate or just take it in at a glance as you pass by. For insights on making any public art encounter with children a good experience, Mommy Poppins Boston spoke with art expert Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Executive Director of Fruitlands Museum in Harvard. Read on for Lynch-McWhite’s thoughts as well as places in and around Boston where parents can take children for a great public art experience.

Mommy Poppins Boston: If you were planning to spend an hour or so exploring public art with children, is there anything you might recommend doing in advance to prepare for or enhance the experience?

Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Executive Director, Fruitlands Museum: I would advise any parent who was planning this type of outing to be sure that they have dealt with scale and fear that some children might have. To an adult, a monumental sculpture might create a feeling of awe but to a small child that scale can be terrifying. These feelings of fear might be amplified if the sculpture has a realistic human or animal form, but it’s definitely something to consider and talking about the different sizes (big and small) are a great planning first step.

Beyond the scale issue, getting ready for a visit to public art is not too different from a visit to the museum. Think about what kind of activity you would like the children to have with the outdoor art. You might bring something to sit on or paper to sketch with - whatever tools help the experience.

If you are able to research the pieces that you are going to see, you could play a game and try to decide which one is your favorite before you go see them. How big or small do you think they are? Are they smooth or rough when you touch them? You can cut out the images and make flash cards or even plan some sort of scavenger hunt.

Essentially, I think planning helps get children excited about going to see something fun and interesting. Depending on their age, they might even be interested in taking part in this planning.

MPB: Do you have recommendations for things to do to follow up?

WLM: My favorite follow up after any art experience is just to ask, “What did you like best?” (never “Did you like it?”) Talking about what each person liked the most and why is a great way to let everyone have an opinion. If you have really interested little ones, you can even take this a step further and make your own art projects when you get home.

MPB: If it were a more spontaneous experience, do you have some tips for those of us who are not art experts that could help us make it a fun experience but still a "teachable" moment?

WLM: Put on your curious hat and ask lots of questions – even if you as the parent know the answers. “Wow, what do you think that is?” is a great starting point for everyone. And reading the label or any information around the piece can lead to great questions. I think what children really get is your sense of excitement and interest and they begin to look upon art as the same way.

Where to Find Public Art in Boston

The City of Boston’s Public Art Walks: The website highlights historic and contemporary art installations throughout the neighborhoods of Boston - Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the Financial District and the North End. Use its interactive mapto find different types of artwork (from the always popular Make Way for Ducklings and frogs at the Boston Common Frog Pond to lesser-known, but just as appealing sculptures.) You’ll also find a Family Walk Guide that highlights some of the most kid-friendly pieces in the city.

Harbor Arts Shipyard Gallery (256 Marginal Street, Boston): An outdoor gallery on the grounds of the Boston Harbor Shipyard with works from over 30 artists, many of which are made from natural and salvaged materials - a combination of permanent and temporary art. Start with its eye-catching giant cod and giant stop light. On September 21, families can enjoy the current collection of artwork and take in the view with live music, local food, refreshments, activities for all ages, and much more during the Harbor Arts Festival.

MIT (Cambridge): Visitors can find numerous outstanding examples of work by major artists all over the MIT campus. Download the MIT Public Art and Architecture Map to help guide you.

Convergence (May 4-Oct 31, 2013; Christian Science Plaza, Boston): The Boston Sculptors Gallery’s outdoor exhibition of monumental, site-specific artworks. Over 25 works of art are on display. Co-sponsored by the Christian Science Church.

Cool Globes Boston (Opens Aug 15; Various locations around Boston): Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet, is a series of 49 public art structures designed to raise awareness of solutions to climate change.

Most museums have at least a few pieces of outdoor sculpture onsite, so almost any museum experience can be a “public art” experience, too.

Where to Find Public Art beyond Boston

The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (Lincoln; open 365 days per year, dawn to dusk): At any given time, approximately 60 sculptures are on display. These include contains sculptures in deCordova’s Permanent Collection; artworks on loan to the Sculpture Park; and temporary displays designed and implemented especially for the deCordova Sculpture Park. Visitors to the Sculpture Park can enjoy regularly scheduled Museum Guide tours, artist and curator talks, behind the scenes installation tours, Family Activity Kits, children’s programs, a cell phone audio tour, snow shoe tours, and even programs that combine bird watching with sculpture appreciation.

Fruitlands Museum (Harvard; Mon, Wed-Fri 10am-4pm; Sat-Sun 10am-5pm): The museum’s Art-in-Nature Sculpture Competition (open through November 3, 2013) features the works of 10 talented sculptors, strategically placed throughout the sprawling Fruitlands Museum campus. Visitors can pick up a sculpture map at the admissions counter and also vote for their favorite pieces at the end of their visit.

Our thanks to Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Executive Director of Fruitlands Museum, for her assistance with this post. To hear more of her thoughts about public art in public spaces, you might enjoy her recent interview on WBUR’s Radio Boston.

Audrey Trieschman is a veteran city editor who brings over a decade of experience in seeking out and reporting on the best events and activities for families in the greater Boston area.

This article originally appeared on Mommy Poppins Boston in August 2013.


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