Now this is a story all about how my life got twisted upside down, if you'd like to take a minute just sit right there and I'll tell you how I become an-expert-in-what-makes-a-good-museum-visit-when-you're-with-kids. Or something like that. When I was living in London, enjoying myself greatly, I made the grand decision to move back to New Zealand and get started on a Masters in Museums and Heritage Studies. It was to be the reinvigoration of a career in museums that had first started during a short contract managing the image library at Te Papa. A week later I found out I was pregnant so my plan was put on hold while I mothered my sassy, thunderbolt of a daughter. Beginning the Masters with this new experience changed my perspective on museums irrevocably. Many components make up a successful GLAM centre visit for babies/kids and parents: is there somewhere to change nappies, can I breastfeed, will the hosts be nice to my kids, will my kids learn anything etc etc. The following are some accounts of visits I've had to various institutions, with varying degrees of success.
1. Te Papa
In a surprise to no one at all, I have taken my kids to Te Papa before. The reason it is no surprise is because it has it all: comfortable changing/feeding areas on multiple floors, break out areas called Discovery Centres full of activities aimed at children (hot tip: the Māori and Pasifika themed ones are always quieter and the Pasifika one has drums and ukuleles BONUS), a child-friendly cafe with giant LEGO (that I recently made a boss throne out of for the kids/myself), big outdoor area that you can take your kids to if they're too rowdy for the inside, or you could take them right to the waterfront because you're right there. The re-developed art floor has also made a conscious effort to involve children by providing a space where they can do art-related activities which to be quite honest, has never really been a success with my kids and I think that is problematic. However, it also appears to be quite symptomatic of a visit to Te Papa where interpretation is king and there are multiple screens etc attracting kid's attentions. What I find problematic about this is that the value becomes about the interpretation and not the message. In saying that, my kids love Te Papa, it never gets old for them and it is a place in which they feel comfortable and that is important.
2. City Gallery
The main reason this is on here is because of Gallery Babes. I was late to the game with Gallery Babes and naively thought that it was aimed at children, in reality it is a child-friendly exhibition tour aimed at parents. If you are a parent, at home with a baby and miss the opportunity to be out and about experience art then I would highly recommend GB, it was a refreshing breather for me. I can also confirm that the middle toilet on the ground floor can fit a buggy in, the couches upstairs are comfortable and surrounded by interesting reading material so are an ideal place to breastfeed/chill out in relative peace and quiet.
3. Wellington City Library
This place is great for little kids, the main reason of course being books books BOOKS. The area by the kids books has multiple couches which are ideal for resting on, breastfeeding on, climbing on, covering in piles of books which you demand your mum to read and then run away from halfway through the first story. Upstairs there is a feeding/change room and downstairs is another room with ample change space and enough room to turn a pram in. They also hold regular story reading sessions in an area full of cushions (and couches for parents). Did I mention the giant LEGO yet? Because they have it and I love it. More places should have it.
4. The Dowse
Thanks to my Hutt-dwelling in-laws being regular babysitters, the kids have had plenty of visits to the Dowse. My girl and I recently went along to the Lonnie Hutchison exhibition and as children often do, she surprised me. I was expecting her to spend a lot of time in front of the art work featuring jet plane lollies but she spent about a second pretending to eat it before sitting down in front of the video work, fascinated by the young girls on screen. Which shouldn't be surprising as, no matter your age, we are all fascinated by seeing our likenesses in unexpected places. Upstairs there is a break-out play room full of a lot of pieces that I had previously seen in an exhibition featuring child-related design. As children are wont to do, the intentions of the pieces are subverted by kids who come up with unexpected ways to interact and engage with them. Little minds are so amazing.
5. Tauranga Art Gallery
For the only non-Wellington institution, I'm returning home. Growing up in Tauranga, we didn't have an art gallery so I didn't make it to this gallery until the end of 2013. When entering the gallery the host gushed that he would make my then 4-month old son a mobile which immediately made me love the place. It was also where I first realised that you can place your kids in front of psychedelic video works and they will remain quietly mesmerized (buzzed out) for at least one minute.
Providing sufficient access to parents means providing access to the children they corrall/love . Bearing in mind that needs change significantly as children age, through small measures like providing a space to sit and an a welcoming and supportive environment for breastfeeding, institutions become exponentially more attractive to visit. What is important to me also is that an element of learning or engagement is also taken away from each visit, however this is much easier said than done but if kids and parents are provided with the tools to do so, it can enrich visits and encourage returns.
And, because I mentioned them, take a trip down nostalgia lane and enjoy some Will the Thrill and Boogaloo Shrimp, get down with your bad self Friday: