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Cool Culture Takes Kids To Museums

Lee Fryd

Kerry Downey talks about this Sam Gilliam piece. (Photo: Lee Fryd)

As its name suggests, Cool Culture not only provides 50,000 underserved families with free admission to 90 institutions, but seeks to inspire them to think of art as a go-to activity that connects parent and child and inspires creative thought.

"Pray for America" by David Hammons.

"Museums are not boring places but places to have conversations," Executive Director Candice Anderson said, after a private tour of the Museum of Modern Art's From the Collection: 1960-1969. It was a sample of the way in which Cool Culture models its tours for these kids and their parents.

"One of the things we try to do," Anderson told Hamptons.com, "is to just focus on one or two pieces, talking about shapes, colors, patterns - the kinds of things that parents can engage in with their kids. Without having to know who the artist is or necessarily the intent of the artist, this provides an opportunity for their child to explore. We know that children have many different ways of learning. The idea that they can explore new materials and create is another way they make meaning. Our program helps parents instill a love of learning that lasts a lifetime."

Our tour, led by Kerry Downey, focused on pieces by David Hammons, Sam Gilliam, and Louise Nevelson. "What do you see here? What makes this unusual?" Downey began, and immediately we were engaged. The works by Hammons and Gilliam, both African America artists, seemed on first glance to have little in common. But as the room responded to Downey's prompts, the works came alive and we came to understand both artists' use of drapery and symbolism could be interpreted as responses to the political climate surrounding black identity in America in the 60s. For Nevelson's iconic found objects in boxes, the question to us was, what activities for kids could this sculpture inspire?

"Early exposure to the arts not only helps kids build their vocabulary, and positions them as critical thinkers, but also gives them a sense of the world around them and what's possible," Anderson told us. It's maybe a short subway ride from the Bronx, Harlem, Crown Heights and Chinatown, but it can feel like an insurmountable journey for many. Cool Culture's programs include an eight week family program to encourage peer support and, said Anderson, "encouraging and nudging the museums to think about the ways they add public value and insure they are serving a broad public."

Cool Culture wants to provide a rich cultural life to New Yorkers of limited means. "We're interested in having such kids who live in the Bronx but don't leave the neighborhood, come to places like MOMA ... and for their families to feel museums are a place where they can go and have quality family time."

For more information, visit www.coolculture.org.

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