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The art of taking children to galleries

Art experiences for kids can take many different forms, from spotting famous faces at the Archibald’s to mask making at the Gallery of Modern Art or creating interactive animations at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Australian galleries have been at the forefront of driving children’s participation since the 1980s, with an impressive array of innovative art programs, kids art spaces and research projects. Today’s galleries offer children and parents endless opportunities to talk about history, humanity, life and art.

The NGV is great at putting on a kid-friendly show, like KAWS: Playtime at NGV 2020 Credit: NGV

With free or discounted exhibition entry available for kids at most Australian galleries, there has never been a better time for your kids to ‘get their culture on’. School holidays, which feature additional kids exhibitions, programs and activities, are an especially good time to visit.

If your children roll their eyes at the mere thought of visiting an ‘educational cultural attraction’, your first stop at any gallery should be the kids area. Immersive hands-on activities are the focus of these spaces created especially for children with plenty of opportunities to make, draw and create.

Emilya Colliver, the Founder & Director of Culture Scouts, runs cultural tours for all ages and curates engaging art experiences for school groups. She is a firm believer in the value of taking children to galleries and introducing visual literacy at a young age.

“Going to an art gallery is such a marvellous way to educate children, expanding their minds, and starting conversations that can lead down many different pathways.”

While the kids area at an art gallery can be a good place to start, there is no need to limit your visit to the children’s section. For example, it can be loads of fun spotting famous and familiar faces together at the Archibald Exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Australia’s portrait prize also has a junior version called the Young Archies which invites artists under 18 to submit a portrait of someone who plays an important role in their life. Spend a few minutes here with your kids then head into the Archibald’s main exhibition hall to view works by the ‘grown ups’.

Father and son swapping ideas about the Archibald 2020 Exhibition at AGNSW. Credit: Tiana Templeman

Kids interpretative signage is a regular feature throughout Australia’s art galleries and a great way to spark conversations about the artworks on display. You’ll find “For Kids” plaques throughout the Archibald’s and at other art exhibitions at major Australian galleries.

If it’s your first time visiting a gallery with your kids, it can be a good idea to brief them in art gallery etiquette before you go.

“The two big things to remember are there’s no touching of the artworks unless it says you can and you need to use an inside voice inside the gallery,” says Emilya.

However, that’s not to say there’s no talking at all.

“Ask the kids about their thoughts on the artwork. How do they think it was painted/drawn/made? What do they like about it and what don’t they like? Ask them if they can see a story being told in the image or if they can mimic the shape of a statue.”

Spark conversations! There are no wrong answers. Children experience art differently to adults. Don’t be surprised if their openness, enthusiasm and honest critiques are the highlight of your gallery visit. 

Six great Australian galleries for kids

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Hands-on activities allow kids to experiment with different art techniques and explore their creativity with programs themed around the gallery’s current exhibitions. Check out the free drop-in workshops on the first and third Sunday of every month and throughout the school holidays.

Let your imagination loose in galleries around Australia. Credit: Tiana Templeman

Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth

Little art lovers are welcomed at this gallery with their own program – ArtBubs – a monthly outing for parents and carers of children aged under one. During school holidays there is a program of workshops, tours and activities for school age children.

Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

The Gallery of Modern Art, or GoMA as it is affectionately known, has an international reputation for hosting exhibitions that are the envy of other galleries with the likes of Picasso, Matisse and Warhol drawing record crowds. Don’t miss the fantastic kids art space on the lower-ground floor.

Get interactive with works like William Forsythe’s The Fact of the Matter 2009, part of the 2020 Water exhibition. Credit: Dominik Mentzos/William Forsythe

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

The NGV offers interactive and innovative kids art activities like creating live animations of KAWS artworks to share on social media. There are weekend workshops for aspiring young artists and ‘Relaxed Evenings’ so kids (and adults) with autism, sensory sensitivities or disability can enjoy a quieter Gallery experience, with fewer people and reduced noise.

Outdoor Urban Galleries, Australia Wide

Pick up a copy of Darwin’s Public Art Map, stroll Melbourne’s famous laneways or take a street art tour with your kids in Newtown. This inner-city Sydney street art hot spot is ideal for kids as most of the art is found in a compact area. Culture Scouts runs street art tours of Newtown led by Craig Bunker, aka Bunkwaa, a local Australian comic book artist and cartoonist.

Weird and wacky art reimagined on Craig Bunker’s awesome tour. Credit: Trevor Templeman

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Art IRL (‘in real life’) is a parent-free program that connects teens with art, artists and each other and includes workshops, live music, snacks, and social activities. Super Sunday is a free monthly program of art chats, storytelling, music, dance and art making for all ages. During school holidays and on weekends the Tim Fairfax Learning Studio runs fun creative activities for children.


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