Here’s How to Enjoy Contemporary Art with Kids

By Gianna Abruzzo, Creator, Our Play Patches February 7, 2024

You won’t be staring silently at a canvas on a visit with kids to the Whitney Museum. It’s well worth a family visit to one of the country’s preeminent contemporary art institutions, right here in Lower Manhattan.

Time your visit right for an interactive experience. Each weekend there is a drop-in family art project that relates to a current museum exhibit, and about one Saturday per month there are gallery tours for families. 

My family (daughters ages 5, 8, and 10) has enjoyed many weekends making art together at the Open Studio family art projects. In an airy studio space, we gather around communal tables where we are provided a brief explanation of an exhibiting artist or a particular work of art, as well as guidance on the art project inspired by it. We’ve created collages, watercolors, clothing out of recycled materials (with the exhibiting artist at our side to assist), and printed tote bags using fruit as stamps. There are plenty of high-quality materials, and staff circulating to answer questions, provide guidance, and keep the space neat.  

We always visit the exhibit that inspires the art project, and sometimes we wander through a couple of other bright, wide-open gallery spaces to find colorful or curious works of art that catch the kids’ eyes. With just a few gallery rooms on each floor, the museum is small enough to find a specific work of art quickly. One current exhibit includes a full-scale kitchen decorated in millions of glued-on glass beads (Kitchen, by artist Liza Lou through January 2021) while a temporary exhibit mounted fresh fruits and vegetables as art objects on pedestals that are made into a fruit salad for visitors every few days (through February 17, 2020). Iconic American artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, and Alexander Calder are always on exhibit in the permanent collection.  It helps to take a look at the website prior to a visit to see what exhibits or specific works of art might interest the kids and what is included in the kids’ guides (see below).  

On a recent family tour, we spent time learning about two works of art and created our own mini artwork for each. For Kitchen, we learned about the artist and her process with accompanying photographs and samples of glass beads, and we did a “scavenger hunt” looking for specific details within the artwork. Then we created our own small artwork carefully placing dozens of small colored dot stickers mimicking the idea of gluing millions of beads as the artist did. The tour was perfect for keeping the interest of both adults and young kids; for us, it could have been even longer or included a few more works of art.  

If there isn’t a family tour, there are two more ways kids can have a customized experience. There is always an activity guide booklet that provides information on a few key works of art, and it includes space, prompts, and a pencil for kids to draw their own inspired art. There is also a kid-specific audio guide for select works of art, which is accessible through a smartphone, or can be rented with headsets. My kids enjoy the independence of using the audio guide – searching the gallery for the included artworks and using their own listening devices. The explanations are sophisticated – yet brief and tailored to kids – describing the artist’s process and helping kids understand what they are looking at. 

Family Logistics:  The Museum’s Studio Café has snacks, salads, sandwiches, and indoor/outdoor seating in a casual, top floor space. There are family restrooms with changing tables. Strollers are allowed throughout the museum. Family Open Studio is from 10:30 to 3:00 every Saturday and Sunday. Along with the general family gallery tours are also special tours for families with children on the autism spectrum, for families with limited English, and stroller tours for parents with babies. Check here for Family programming.

Admission is free for children, however, adults are $25 each. You may hesitate to spend this much when you don’t know just how long your kid will last at a museum. However, timed with an Open Studio visit makes it worth it. Also, membership will pay for itself in about three visits, and then you can casually stop in on the weekends to expose your kids to world-class art and enjoy family quality time.  

Nearby Fun:  The museum is at the south end of the High Line, across from Hudson River Park. We love the plantings, public art, and architectural features on a walk along the High Line, but not when it is overrun with tourists. One of our favorite destination playgrounds is only a five-minute walk from here. It is located on a pier in Hudson River Park and has a unique spiral castle and fun summer-time water sprays. Three blocks away into Greenwich Village you can stop by at Corporal John Seravalli Playground for swings and climbing nets. 

Eats and Treats:  Our go-to lunch is directly across the street from the museum. Simo makes super-quick, made-to-order personal-sized pizzas that each feed two to three kids. Other close-by options are Kava Café (bar-stools only but pre-made sandwiches to go) or Three Owls Market  (packaged snacks and drinks or a casual sit-down lunch). Ample Hills Creamery is nearby for special ice creams such as the site-specific “Floatin’ Over the High Line,” a root-beer ice cream with marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles. In warm weather, there are several frozen treat vendors to discover on the walk along the High Line. Less than 10 minutes away is Chelsea Market for a variety of treats (but also crowds).

Whitney Museum of American Art 
99 Gansevoort St 
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 10:30 am – 6:00 pm. Closed Tuesday
Fridays open until 10:00 pm when it is pay-as-you-wish from 7:00pm
Family Open Studio: Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 am – 3:00 pm
Admission: $25, ages 18 and under free


Gianna Abruzzo is a Brooklyn-born mom of three daughters living in Lower Manhattan. You can find her family downtown and around town, exploring new playgrounds, treat spots, and NYC’s diverse arts and culture. Follow her on Instagram.

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