OK, so the picture above (snapped with my phone camera on an early morning bike ride) is really a bridge renovation project, not a work of environmental art. But it did remind me of some great outdoor sculpture exhibits we’ve visited with the kids. I’ve written before about how well kids and modern art museums go together. Well, if anything, outdoor art exhibits are even more family-friendly.
For one thing, most outdoor sculpture is designed so that you, the viewer, can interact with the piece. That doesn’t just mean being able to touch a piece (which can be a big deal for a kid in itself). Depending on the size and nature of the piece, you may be able to go around, under, or even climb on top of it! Added to that is the fact that in most sculpture gardens and exhibits, kids are free to run around to their heart’s content, often in gorgeous natural settings.
Here are some outdoor art exhibits we’ve enjoyed over the years (several, as it turns out, by bicycle). Feel free to suggest your own favorite places to find outdoor art with kid-appeal.
Make Way for Ducklings, Public Garden, Boston
Boston is overrun with fun outdoor sculpture that is perfectly-sized for active tots. We hit all of them — including this tribute to the classic story Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, which can be found in the Public Garden — on a visit there in 2003.
Norman Rockwell Museum
Over the years the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — which of course has some wonderful exhibits inside, as well — has hosted some very kid-friendly outdoor exhibits against the backdrop of the green Berkshires. Our favorite was the year they invited artists to create their own interpretation of Snoopy’s dog house. But this tower of gargoyles, by Norman Rockwell’s son Peter, is a permanent fixture on the museum grounds.
Lachine Outdoor Museum
On the southwest corner of the island of Montreal, at the entrance of the Lacine Canal, the spectacular Outdoor Museum sculpture garden has close to fifty works, large and small. When we visited, we joined a free bike tour (in French) of the park, which is flat and lined with paved paths.
Storm King Art Center
I had driven past the Storm King Art Center, which can been glimpsed from the New York State Thruway about an hour north of New York City — a million times before I finally decided to stop and take a look. The park-like site consists of 500 acres of lawns, fields and woodlands, with gigantic sculptures coming into view around every turn. Running around the grounds looking for the next cluster of art gave the kids a perfect break from a long drive.
The Gates (2005)
It seemed crazy, but one February morning in 2005 we loaded up the bikes and headed down to New York’s Central Park to see The Gates. I admit I’m a fan of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, having seen the Pont Neuf wrapped in shimmery golden fabric in 1984. Some people argued that The Gates wasn’t really “art.” I say, who cares? To the kids, biking beneath miles of bright saffron flags was a magical experience they’ll remember for a lifetime.