NORTH ADAMS — Things are slowly starting to re-open in the Berkshires. Local museums have resumed visitation and my stir-crazy family was excited to hear MASS MoCA was included. Sometimes a visit to the museum can be a tricky experience with young kids, but MoCA's Kidspace bridges the gap between art appreciation and interactive play, and we were headed to their newest exhibit.
Kidspace is a "child-centered art gallery and hands-on studio presenting exhibitions and educational experiences in collaboration with leading artists." Combining contemporary social issues with art and mixed materials, each installation is educational and connects to both children and adults. The current installation by multimedia artist Wendy Red Star, a member of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe, offers accounts of American history that rectify the frequently flawed narratives about Native people. We were immediately struck by the vibrancy and scale of the artwork. "The Children of the Large-Beaked Bird" exhibit provides an opportunity for adults and children to look at history and representation with fresh eyes. Red Star notes: “It is critical to preserve and pass along culture, heritage, and shared values while also providing future generations with a sense of identity, solidarity, and empowerment.” Included alongside each piece of artwork are various prompts to spark conversation and thought. Asking the kids things like, "Why do you think the artist chose to highlight some of the photographs in red and left others unaltered?"
My 7-year-old son had plenty of opinions, "that's her favorite color, just like me!" while my 3-year-old daughter busied herself comparing her height to the life-size portraits.
The exhibit also includes stuffed toy animals juxtaposed with drawings of similar creatures, allowing the kids to compare and contrast the details. Mason really enjoyed this activity and spent time picking apart every detail.
Before we left, we were handed an activity, a take-home version of Wendy Red Star's vibrant Family Portrait quilt with spaces to fill in our own family.
With the effects of Covid-19, the “hands-on” element of Kidspace is now very much “hands-off.” In a space that has championed the participatory element of art, these new and necessary precautions can be a tricky adjustment. I had to continuously my kids to look, but not touch, to keep their masks on, to get off the floor ... etc, etc. Thankfully, the onsite ice cream stand, Lickety-Split was open for business and thus, bribery worked its magic.
We can't wait for things to go back to normal. The usual activities that allow children to fully experience these exhibits make them so much more meaningful. But we are so grateful to places like MASS MoCA for finding that balance between sensory immersion and safety. The current exhibit is colorful, vibrant, and a visual feast for eyes both big and small. The scale of the exhibit really engaged my kid's curiousity and imagination.
We all must do our best in times like these. Our best to be understanding, to be flexible, to keep one another safe, and to snatch up little moments of normalcy wherever they can be found. It wasn’t our typical day out, no. But there was still excitement and smiles, and most of all, there was still ice cream.
If you go: Kidspace is free, but reservations are required. Does not include MASS MoCA admission. Masks must be worn and social-distancing guidelines apply.
Kidspace is located at 1040 MASS MoCA Way in North Adams. For more information visit massmoca.org.