An Urban Parent’s Guide to Raising Cultured Children

For many city parents, part of the draw of city living is access to the arts and cultural happenings. From exploring city and regional museums to gallery visits and art classes, more and more families are taking advantage of the unique opportunities available to them.

To foster interest in the arts, museums across the country are developing children’s programming designed to encourage youth participation, in hopes that the engaged learning experiences nurture a cultural savvy in the next generation of society’s leaders.

This week, we visit with fashion icon Cynthia Rowley on how she combines her two biggest loves: family and art.

Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Rowley
Cynthia Rowley has become synonymous with fashion, but before she was known for her red carpet stylings she received a degree in fine arts from the School of Art Institute. And that initial passion lingers even now, illuminating her day-to-day. “Art is virtually in every part of our life as a family,” confessed Ms. Rowley. Her husband Bill Powers owns Half Gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and together they founded Exhibition A, which sells exclusive editions of artwork by contemporary artists. With both parents as fervent art advocates, it's easy to see how the constant cultural immersion might affect their children.

“Most of our friends are artists, so the kids don’t really have a choice,” laughed Ms. Rowley.

Photo: Rowley-Powers clan, circa 2005.
The Rowley-Powers brood “visits galleries, museums, and public art as much as possible.” But it’s important to them that they aren’t merely admiring the art, especially with two kids tagging along. “Art that is interactive is always a favorite,” said Ms. Rowley, “like the Carsten Holler slide and carousel at the New Museum.”

The first Saturday of every month, the New Museum holds a free day for families with hands-on programs for children 5-15 years old. Families are encouraged to explore the exhibits, to have lively conversations about the artwork and to engage in related creative activities.
As a mother and patron of the arts, Ms. Rowley feels it is important for children to not only experience art, but to engage with it. Simply put, “it validates the imagination.”

Sharon Vatsky, Director of School and Family Programs at the Guggenheim Museum, echoed Ms. Rowley’s sentiments. “Children are incredibly curious … It is not surprising that given a bit of encouragement, they benefit greatly from seeing that artists also do many of the things that come so naturally to them.” The Guggenheim’s family programs—among them Family Tour and Workshop, Open Studio and Just Drop In—are open-ended and encourage an active discourse. There are even self-guided activities “designed to allow families to explore on their own.”

Photo Credit: Enid Alvarez
Ms. Rowley’s children “like to come and hang out at (her) studio and make things. Sewing, drawing, painting, and building things.” For parents looking to recreate a studio experience, the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently introduced a new family-friendly program called Sunday Studio. Families can create art and explore different cultures through artist-led hands-on activities in the galleries for a creative and immersive experience.
Like Exhibition A—founded to make contemporary art more accessible to broader, and younger, audiences—the Noguchi Museum aims to make Isamu Noguchi’s work accessible to our future generations. “Kids love the Noguchi Museum because there is nothing between them and the art, which is displayed in the open, without any barriers,”said Rebecca Herz, Head of Education at the Noguchi Museum. “The museum thus offers a visceral experience of a sculpted space and unusual art, some of which is bigger than the kids.”

Located in Queens, the Noguchi museum offers three family programs: Art for Families, Art for Tots and Open Studio. The goal is to encourage parents and caregivers to “learn strategies for engaging children in the museum experience through the exploration of art materials and visits to the galleries,” explained Ms. Herz.
This fall, the Whitney wants families to roll up their sleeves and engage with art together. And how do they plan to do that? With a printmaking program, inspired by the work of contemporary artist Wade Guyton, that teaches families the latest, cutting edge techniques.

The museum also takes a look at what art can teach about its time. Sinister Pop, an upcoming exhibit at the Whitney, draws upon the museum’s vast collection of Pop art to curate the “dark and unsettling ways in which artists looked at the cultural landscape of America in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s chief curator and deputy director for programs. These foundations of a greater, deeper appreciation for the arts bring a cultural perspective to the forefront.
Movies aren’t just for Sunday matinees anymore: It’s an inescapable format with far-reaching implications. For fans of the visual arts and new media, the Museum of the Moving Image showcases the history, technology and artistry of the moving image. It offers year-round family opportunities that engage kids in a hands-on format. Behind the Screen teaches visitors about stop-motion animations and soundtracks as well as visual and sound effects. Families can also create their own personalized flipbook after checking out over 1,400 artifacts from some of the most beloved films of our time, proving that YouTube doesn’t have to be the end-all be-all of our youth.
When visiting Chicago, Ms. Rowley’s hometown, the family loves to check out the “Anish Kapoor sculpture in Millennium Park and the classics at (her) alma matter The Art Institute like Monet’s Water Lilly Pond, Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grand Jatte, and Rodin’s Adam,” said Ms. Rowley. “The Museum of Contemporary Art always has great shows. Most recently, we loved Rashid Johnson’s show there.”
For those who like to Do-It-Yourself, like Cynthia Rowley’s clan, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a must visit. The museum’s family program headquarter is the Koret Visitor Education Center, where kids can learn about art browsing through the library’s art books and videos. The museum also offers courses on the process of art making.
With over 18 art institutions in a 2-mile radius in the city’s Art District, there are plenty of options for family art outings. One great choice is the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, which offers special family guides. These are “opportunities for exploration, discovery and conversation about the art on view,” said the museum.
This month, the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami celebrates 10 years of offering children’s programming. To commemorate the anniversary, Cuban artist Pablo Cano premiered his marionette performance titled The Toy Box Revival. “The Toy Box brings together Claude Debussy music, Pablo Cano’s enchanting and inventive marionettes, and modern dance. It awakens and inspires the child in all of us,” Bonnie Clearwater, the museum’s Executive Director and Chief Curator, told us.

With all the distractions of the city, it seems there’s never really time for much of anything—particularly not for enjoying those very distractions. You and your kids have your hands in this and that, lending your limited and often sparse attention to a cultural event here, or a social gathering there, but when was the last time you forgot about the ticking hands on your watch face and took joy in the simple act of being together?


For the seven weeks, we follow families that do.  


Each day, with every meal and chore, these New Yorkers take a step back from it all. From neighborhood outings to museum visits, we connect with parents and their kids about how they keep their busy schedules in check and make time for what matters at the end of the day, when soccer season is over and to-do lists are crossed off: each other.


We also look to Houston, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago to see what they have to offer families who are searching for ways to be a part of each others’ everyday lives.


When it comes to your family, who doesn’t have a moment to spare?


Week One: From the Comfort of Your Front Yard

Week Two: Fashion, and Family: A Lifestyle

Week Three: Art and the City: A Family Affair

Week Four: Walking the Walk: The Family that Plays Together …

Week Five: Around the World in So Many Ways

Week Six: Put Down the Textbook, for a Lesson Learned

Week Seven: The Tradition of Coming Together

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