8 reasons to love Milwaukee Art Museum!

Summer Excitement

Free passes for HOPE Network members

Exciting news!  The Milwaukee Art Museum has generously offered free admission to all HOPE Network families again this summer! HOPE Network members, watch your mail for your free pass. The pass can be used all summer and permits free entry for two adults and all children under 12.

I’m a frequent museum visitor – even volunteered there for a couple years. I’m no art expert, but I developed a fondness for many of the pieces during that time. These days, more often than not, my visits include my three daughters. I see a kids on our trips, but I also feel like it’s a destination a lot of families miss. My fear is that art museums are wrongly viewed as stuffy, or snobbish, or judgmental, or just plain boring. So, I conducted an informal investigation.

A lack of enthusiasm

HOPE member Cortni, was volunteering the day the passes arrived.  She has a hearty laugh and is always eager to help when she can, every couple of weeks. This day she was stamping envelopes. I was beyond excited to receive the passes, but I sensed Cortni didn’t share my enthusiasm. I asked if she ever took her teenage son to the art museum. She said they hadn’t been in many years. Next I interrupted our hardworking volunteer Barb, who was busy with data entry. Barb is actively involved with her grandchildren but admitted she had never taken them to the art museum.

Prepare to be dazzled

It occurred to me that some information-sharing was in order. Barb and Cortni grew a little more interested when I shared my favorites, so I figured they might help blog readers as well. Get ready to learn about what the Milwaukee Art Museum has to offer families – even those with young children.

Eight reasons Milwaukee Art Museum is great for families

1. Family friendly options

The museum works hard to be family friendly. Their website lists a variety of options, featuring both the well-known (Kohl’s Art Generation gallery, where children can participate in an always fresh array of hands-on projects) and the lesser-known (art packs, which include sketching materials, picture books about art, puppets, puzzles, and more). See the full list here.

2. Contemporary collection

After you’ve checked out the “made for kids” opportunities, take a look at what’s new…or at least what’s contemporary. Our museum has an amazing collection of modern art. Modern art’s big, bold, colorful shapes, living artists, and unconventional media (think: buttons and wire in gigantic scale) make these pieces intriguing and relatable to kids. There’s even art you can walk on!
Best Bets:  The lifelike “Janitor” (tip: tell your kids to ask him a question, then giggle together as they realize he’s fake), this unassuming suitcase offers more than meets the eye, St. Dionysus by artist Kehinde Wiley, who painted President Barack Obama’s portrait for the National Art Gallery

3. Haitian art

Don’t miss the incredible collection of Haitian art.  I first grew to love this collection on a 6th grade field trip, and it’s been a personal favorite ever since. The vibrant colors bring these paintings to life. The pieces crafted from oil drums provide an opportunity for discussion and education.
Best Bets: Crowded Market, Two Fish Forming a Bohemian face

4. Folk art

I love our folk art, and it’s a real chance to expand that conversation about who decides what has art and what belongs in a museum. Plus, it’s a great history lesson. I love talking to my kids about what uses the folk art pieces had in the past. (Trout decoys and samplers rarely find a place in our everyday lives). Even better – wondering why on earth an object was every created!
Best Bets: The Newsboy is a window into a medium – and a part of history – that is likely new to those born in this millennium. The Sportworld – just imagine this thing in motion!

5. Decorative art

The furniture collection is a great place to talk about finding art in everyday life. A collection of chairs sounds boring, but it’s a perfect compliment to a discussion of difference. Why do certain features (comfort, cost, style) appeal to particular people. From the experimental to the utilitarian, from ornate to simple, there is a lot to see in the decorative arts department.

6. World-famous wings

The Brise Soleil – what? The roof. Call it by it’s real name if you’re feeling fancy. It opens and closes every day at noon. If you haven’t taken the time to watch, just once, from the bridge outside the museum, you are missing out. Bonus: if your kids are anything like mine, they will get a kick out of the glass elevator to the bridge.

7. Untouchable breakables

There is a lot of cool glass going on at the Milwaukee Art Museum. You’ll see this awe-inspiring piece made by Dale Chihuly as soon as you enter. Confession: when I was a museum volunteer, I distinctly remember telling people it was made of balloons – and believing it. I sincerely hope they thought I was kidding.
Best bets: Isola di San Giacomo in Palude Chandelier II, Laid Table (Still Life with Metal Pitcher)

8. Finding your own favorites

Create your own list. Mine is inherently biased. These are truly my personal favorites, but my highlights include little photography, portraiture, drawings, or non-western art. There’s reasons to enthusiastically support every medium, artist, and era. What is really fun is hunting for your own family’s favorites. Pick up a map, wander the galleries, and don’t be afraid to ask the security guards to help you find something. They may seem intimidating with their secret service-like earpieces, but in my experience, they are always friendly, insanely knowledgeable, and eager to talk. (I imagine that job has its dull moments).

Moreover, don’t be afraid to form your own opinions. My kids often scoff and wonder why something is even in the museum. It’s a great chance to talk about who makes those decisions, and encourage them to form their own opinions.  I like them to know that no one person has the power to decide what is beautiful or valuable. They don’t have to agree with the museum curator about what is art. Teaching them to develop and respectfully share opinions is a life skill that goes far beyond the museum. Not being afraid to laugh at the occasional bare bottom helps, too.

Remember one rule

Ready to check it out? I hope so! Just make sure your littles know the one rule before they enter the galleries: if you feel like touching something, put your hands on your tummy.

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