Learning about creativity at children’s art museum

By Melanie Wallis

Taking up most of the sidewalk in front of 180 Lafayette St is a life-size wooden zebra, guarding the entrance to the otherwise concealed Children’s Museum of the Arts.

The zebra is a good indication of what’s to come inside. The decor stimulates imagination, with the walls painted in vivid colors, orange, red and blue, as well as a large climbable wooden structure simulating the turret of a castle. More wooden animals lurk around every corner. This relatively small museum has created an atmosphere of excitement and fun for children.

It’s not only the decor that makes this an exhilarating place for kids to visit, this museum is a museum with a difference — not only can children look but they are encouraged to touch and even make a mess.

“I get the chance to create things and not just look at things,” said Meredith, 9, accompanied by her father, Chris. They live on 56th St. “She gets bored with just looking at things at the Met,” Chris said. Meredith who was playing on the museum’s PC, creating an underwater scene, said she finds the museum different from her school art class. “I have an art class but it’s a lot more boring than this,” she said.

The museum offers a large variety of hands-on activities for children aged 10 months to 10 years. With the list of options changing on a daily basis, making animal masks was on the day’s activity board, along with making a sculpture from mini paper cups and a fishpond out of aluminum containers and blue tissue paper. Staff and interns guide and supervise the children with the activities, but parents are asked to stay, too.

Marilyn Appelbaum from Brooklyn was helping her daughter, Zoe Sarullo, 3, make a paper mask by gluing paper shapes and buttons to an already cutout paper mask. It was the second time Sarullo had been to the museum. “She raved about it for days after the first time. She was so excited about the play area,” Appelbaum said. “She made a cat sculpture. It was excellent. It was more creative than the things she made at school,” Appelbaum said.

For some parents, however, the museum is viewed as more than just a place for children to be creative. Monique Flores, an art therapist, with her 21-month-old daughter, Valentina Cardenas, said she felt that the exposure to art and the other children is an important aspect for her daughter’s development. “It’s very important for her in terms of social and psychological progression,” Flores said.

The Children’s Museum of the Arts is linked with local galleries and is currently displaying artwork by Keith Haring through Oct. 31.

Aside from the Haring exhibition, the museum is more like one big inspiring workshop, with a practical activity located in every corner, including painting, gluing, designing, computer animation, chalking, a Play-Doh table — and that’s just on the first floor.

Walking down the child-protected, gated stairs to the floor below, you find the ball “pond,” where in a contained area are a number of large bouncy balls, where one little girl was having great fun bouncing around on balls almost as tall as she was. There is also a dress-up area, a music corner, a cushioned reading corner and a separate classroom for weeklong projects.

Its costs $6 to use the facilities, but the museum also holds special weekly programs. These programs include the after-school program, which has classes on fine art, drawing and painting and sculpture. For the younger children there are classes that use art to meet the children’s developmental needs. There is the WEE (Wondrous, Experiment, Explore) program, for children aged 10 months to 3 1/2 years and For Fours, for 4-year-olds.

The museum will be closed for renovation from Sept. 6-15, but is intending to re-open for a free Back to School Fashion Bash, on Sat., Sept. 15. For the one-day event, the kids will learn sewing and jewelry design and also have the option to partake in a fashion show. For more information about future events visit www.cmany.org or call 212-274-0986.