Free, free, free. The NexGen program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art offers free gallery tours, free visits to the Boone Children’s Gallery and free art sessions in the courtyard on most Sundays to children under age 18 and an accompanying adult. Sign up at the table outside, put on your orange NexGen badge, and you’re good to go.
Since 2003, NexGen has offered workshops that compliment one of the exhibits currently shown in the museum. The activities are designed by “a pool of teaching artists who teach weekend art classes and workshops at schools and libraries” according to Karen Satzman, manager of Art Classes and Family Programs for LACMA. Every week features a new project. “Fortunately LACMA is an encyclopedic museum — so there’s no lack of themes,” Satzman said.
Dash and Zora could sample three different activities on the day we visited. They immediately ran to the “Toddler Tarp,” an area designed for the under 5 crowd. They brought their art materials to the mat on the floor, where they sat down and channeled their inner artist, unencumbered by big kid tables and chairs. We were supposed to make a crown decorated with sequins, feathers and tissue paper. Of course, Dash turned his crown into a robot. Regardless of the assignment, all Dash’s art projects turn out to be robots, aliens or superheroes. Zora had a blast picking the remnants of glue out of glue sticks and smearing it all over herself. After several minutes at the toddler tarp we had a rockin’ robot and a 2 year old encrusted with sequins and dusted with feathers.
Two other art stations were designed for older children in mind. Make sure you arrive early. By 3 p.m., the glue sticks were tapped and the paper mache station, which looked really fun, was completely out of materials. Dash was content drawing a cartoon. Actually, he was more of the art director, as I had to enact his vision of an alien crashing his space ship into the moon. He said making the comic strip was his favorite activity.
Next, we headed to the Boone Children’s Gallery, which recently reopened in the Korean Art Gallery while its former location is undergoing renovations. Anyone can drop in and learn about Korean brush painting with watercolors. The increased visibility of its new location has drawn more visitors to the Boone Gallery, including adults, who may rarely have the opportunity to participate in creating art. “You don’t have to be a NexGen member or even a kid to visit the Boone Gallery,” Satzman said.
Dash enjoyed the brush painting so much that he made four pictures. This was the first time he actually appreciated the subtleties of watercolor painting. In previous attempts, he piled on way too much water, tearing the paper. Zora painted a bit, tried to eat the watercolors, and ripped up her masterpiece, which seemed like a lot of fun. Friendly helpers brought us new paper and clean water, and were very tolerant of Zora, who was a walking piece of performance art by the time she finished, covered from head to toe in paint, glue and sequins.
After all that hard work, the kids burned off some energy in the park between LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits. The giant hill leading up to the Tar Pits possesses magic powers — no child could walk by it without running up and rolling down at least once. Dash rolled with dozens of kids who were crashing into each other and squealing with delight. Zora wanted in on the action too. She’d move about two feet and declare, “I rolling! I rolling!” We also wandered through LACMA’s small modern sculpture garden, which Dash enjoyed.
Although we could not find a picnic table, there was a stone amphitheater where we could eat our lunch. LACMA contains a restaurant and casual cafeteria as well.
Museum directors come from abroad to observe the unique NexGen program, which is the brainchild of former director Andrea Rich. She envisioned a place where “family can come together” because “the museum is a more vibrant place with different voices,” Satzman said. That is why NexGen allows participants to bring one adult for free. The program has been a success so far. NexGen boasts over 107,000 members. The museum is currently “studying the social impact of its program” and finding that its families are “thinking about art more and doing art more,” Satzman said. Attending NexGen days has definitely increased Dash’s and Zora’s interest in art.
NexGen is also focusing on friendliness, “working with guards and staff to be very welcoming,” Satzman said. I can testify that it took tremendous strength of will for the guards not to freak out as my paint-covered and gluey children approached the buddahs in the Korean Art Gallery. Somehow they kept a smile on their faces. We also made our traditional rounds of visiting the mummy and the African masks.
NexGen happens most Sundays between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Did I mention it’s free? For more information go to www.lacma.org.
Find a calendar with local events, helpful links, and more adventures of Addison, Zora, and Dash at smatoz.blogspot.com.