PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2013, and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, it may also contain outdated information. Please be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information, especially about things like hours and pricing. If you see something in this post that needs to be updated, please feel free to leave the new information in the comments section below, or send us an email at email@example.com and we will be happy to make the changes. Hey, it takes a village, right? 🙂
UPDATE 2016: The NBMAA recently underwent a major renovation, adding the new “Art and Education Wing” onto the building. As a result, things like the parking lot and outdoor spaces may look a little different now, so please keep that in mind while reading this post from 2013. One major change was the expansion of the existing kids’ ArtLab (open during regular museum hours– just drop in!) to include new rooms, new activities and more space for exploration.
Here is a sneak peek of that new space (many thanks to my friend, Ellen who snapped these pics for me on her latest visit!):
UPDATE: The Maurice Sendak exhibit is no longer running, but keep reading to find out about the NBMAA’s other family-friendly features!
Have you been to the New Britain Museum of American Art? Wait, let me back up a minute. Did you even know that there is a fabulous art museum just down the road in New Britain, Connecticut?
Well, this little gem has been on my “to do” list for quite some time now, and seeing as they just opened their latest special exhibit focused on the drawings of beloved children’s book author, Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), I figured this was a good time to introduce Boo to the world of fine art (or at least try, anyway).
Something else you may not know, is that the NBMAA is FREE to the public EVERY Saturday morning from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. And by that I mean, so long as you get in the door between those hours, you are free to spend as much time there as you like, for FREE. Fine art for FREE, people! Need I say more? 🙂
So, as you probably guessed, that is exactly when I arrived with my crew on the opening day of the Maurice Sendak exhibit (running now through February 9, 2014).
Despite the opening day and the free admittance, we didn’t have any trouble snagging a spot in the spacious parking lot. That is, after we found it. It’s set back a bit from the road off a narrow drive, so just keep a lookout for this silver sign.
There is also street parking right in front of the museum, if you need it.
If you’re pushing a stoller like me, you’ll be happy to know there is a totally flat walkway leading up to the museum’s front door (just in case all those stairs in that first picture made you a little nervous). It’s right off the parking lot. There’s a sign and everything. You can’t miss it.
You’ll scoot right up to the front entrance, head through the glass doors and see the admissions desk right in front of you. Even when the museum is free, you still need to go up to the desk and check in. Once you’re all set, you can head through the glass doors to the left to enter the museum.
Just make sure you don’t do anything to make that security guard mad; he’s kind of a loose cannon. Just kidding 🙂 He’s actually not even real! Or is he…
If you’re following me to the Maurice Sendak exhibit, and you’ve got a stroller like I do, you’ll want to follow me to the elevator (I’ll show you the stairs later).
Or you can follow the map to your desired location (you’ll get one at the admissions desk).
Sendak is on the second floor. FYI- There is a family restroom located right around the corner from the elevator on the second floor. The good news is, it’s big enough to take a stroller into. The bad news is, there’s no changing station in this one. (UPDATE 2/2014: Mandy recently went for a visit and reported back that there is now a changing station in this restroom–yay!)
Off the elevator, head left until you see the gallery (it’s only a few steps away).
I’m no detective, but I think this is the room we are looking for 🙂
Now, before we go any further, I want to take a minute to mention the museum’s photography policy. Basically, I think I broke a few rules by snapping some pics in the special exhibit. But as a very wise professor once told me, ask for forgiveness, not permission. So I’m hoping that by not actually photographing the artwork itself (hey, at OAAM, we only care about things like stroller maneuverability and seating, right?! See the art on your own time! 🙂 ), I’m staying within appropriate boundaries. (Actually, I did try to contact the museum ahead of time to let them know I was coming, but I did not get a response). BTW-to comply with the other photography policy of no flash, I took all these pics with my iPhone, which will perhaps explain why so many of them are a little fuzzy around the edges–no, you don’t need new glasses.
It’s not a huge exhibit. There’s one large room with walls lined with Maurice Sendak illustrations, quotes from prominent individuals pertaining to his work as well as interesting explanations and tidbits about his life (when I saw the plaque about In the Night Kitchen I thought finally! Someone is going to explain this crazy story to me! But alas, Sendak’s explanation was appropriately vague.) Nevertheless, it is a charming little exhibit that’s very well done with lots of colorful characters that your kids will recognize from their storybooks (just as you recognize them from yours) and lots of interesting things to learn about Sendak’s life and work.
But the thing that makes this exhibit so family-friendly (and it is, I promise; I was not the only one pushing around a stroller), is this special room at the back just for kids. It’s got a giant screen playing the 2009 Where the Wild Things Are movie, plenty of comfy bean bag chairs for watching or reading books selected from a table covered with Sendak’s titles. There are colored pencils and coloring pages, too.
Boo wanted to try the maze. I think we need to work on his navigation skills 🙂
The walls were covered in chalkboard paint, and the kids were encouraged to color with the provided chalk.
There was also this interactive wall. The concept was great (reconfiguring the words of Sendak’s stories to create new phrases), but the execution was a little iffy. Basically, the letters didn’t stick to the wall like they were supposed to (with some sort of Velcro effect), and they just kept falling off around us.
One thing that I thought was just super was this scavenger hunt where kids could look for different objects and images throughout the illustrations in the gallery.
As any professional educator or seasoned parent knows, giving kids an activity to engage them as they observe is key to holding their attention. This really hit the mark. In fact, the museum has a general booklet available as well with a similar strategy that pertains to the rest of the museum galleries.
Apparently, all this learning about art is very exhausting…
While we’re on the subject of family-friendly activities, I’ll mention that this museum is positively teeming with them. Downstairs, there is the Art Lab, where kids can go anytime to hang out and get creative.
I can’t wait to come back to try one of these with Boo!
Back upstairs, the troops were getting restless. Or at least hungry. So we decided to check out the museum’s cafe. It’s located just off the lobby.
Hubby took the little guy down the elevator so Boo and I could check out this amazing art installation usurping the back wall of the staircase. How cool is this?! It’s all painted plastic cups!
Check out this Chihuly on your way down the stairs, too. Crazy cool.
Boo cannot resist anything with a train these days.
When we arrived at the cafe, it looked standard enough to me. A museum cafe with slightly hipper furniture than most.
Then I saw the menu. This is not your typical museum cafe! Lobster panini! Roasted chicken ciabatta! Mushroom lasagna! I could have ordered one of everything.
I went with the Harvest Salad with roasted chicken. Hubby sprang for the Roasted Chicken Ciabatta. And we got Boo a jelly sandwich (PB&J, hold the PB) off the kids’ menu. That’s right. A kid’s menu. Is this place family-friendly or what?!
The menu appears to be seasonal, and it’s also posted at the entrance to the cafe so you can take a quick peek on your way in and decide if anything sounds good (I’m going to bet on yes).
There is a sign near the order counter warning that you will likely wait 10 minutes or so for your food since it’s made to order (they were not lying; it was close to 10 minutes). But it was so worth the wait!
It looked like there were a few pre-made things in the case near the register, in the event that you need to grab something and go. Soft drinks too. Snapple, juice, water, etc.
There even looks to be a patio that I imagine offers seating in the warmer months.
There are actually a few lovely outdoor spaces in and around the museum, including the spacious park right behind it.
Per usual, I had to check out the restroom situation. I told you about that family restroom up on the second floor, but the main floor is where you will find the restroom with the changing station. It’s down the corridor to the left of the museum entrance. You’ll also find a coat rack and lockers here.
There is a large ladies’ room (and a men’s room too) on the left, but to find the changing station (there isn’t one in the ladies’ room, and I restrained myself from checking the men’s room 🙂 ), keep going toward that door at the back. You’ll see the family restroom all the way at the back of this hallway on your right.
There is so much more to see and do in this museum, we couldn’t possibly have covered it all in one visit. And I’m actually thinking of coming back just with the little guy one day while Boo is in school. He can snooze in the stroller and I can take a closer look at the collections and grab a quick bite to eat. If you’ve got a new little baby like me, this could be a great outing to get you out of the house and give you something more interesting to think about than laundry and diapers (I’ve been there, trust me).
Bottom line: If you haven’t been to this charming museum, the family-friendly Maurice Sendak exhibit is a wonderful excuse to bring the kiddos out for a visit. I think they’ll be wild about it 🙂
Hours & Admission:
Special exhibit: Maurice Sendak exhibit runs from November 9th, 2013 to February 9th, 2014.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (FREE from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.)
Sunday: noon – 5 p.m.
Closed New Years Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
$12 for Adults
$10 for Seniors
$8 for Students
Children under 12 free
Saturday admission from 10 a.m. to noon is free to the public.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- Plenty of free parking
- Very stroller-friendly
- Cafe with a kids’ menu
- Oops! I did not notice any high chairs in the cafe and I forgot to ask (Boo has been sitting in a regular chair for months now, so sometimes it slips my mind)
- Don’t forget to pick up an Art Elements booklet to help enhance your kiddo’s museum experience
- FREE on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon (just enter between those hours; stay as long as you like)
- Can’t go on a Saturday but still want to get in for FREE? Many local libraries offer museum passes for free admission to the NBMAA. Check out our Museum Passes page for quick links to libraries near you.
- Take the little ones to visit the Art Lab anytime or check out the drop in classes for kids on Saturday mornings (Art Start & Art Explorers)
- Click here to see all their family programs
- Check out their current exhibitions here
- No food allowed in the exhibits
- The sign said no large bags allowed, but no one gave me any trouble about my giant diaper bag 🙂
- Credit cards accepted for admission and in the cafe
- Restrooms with changing station located in family restroom on first floor (through coat room) and in second floor family restroom near elevator.
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