We've been huge fans of the Children's Museum of the Arts (CMA) for years. It's even on our list of 100 Things to Do in NYC with Kids Before They Grow Up. The Soho mainstay wasn't just a great spot to play indoors when the weather was bad; it was a place where kids could get seriously creative and express themselves as artists way beyond the usual dinky arts and crafts.
After more than a decade crammed into an always busy two-level loft on Lafayette Street, the museum clearly needed to grow up. So this Saturday, CMA opens its swanky new space on Charlton Street in Hudson Square. At 10,000 square feet, it's three times bigger than the now-closed Soho location, and features state-of-the-art equipment, a huge gallery for exhibitions, lots of studio space, a separate section just for preschoolers, and expanded programming and classes.
We were thrilled to get a private tour of the brand-new CMA earlier this week. (I was literally grinning ear to ear the entire time thinking about how much my very artsy six-year-old will love the new space.) Here's a bit of what you'll find at the new and improved CMA, and details on this opening weekend's festivities, including a free block party this Saturday, October 1.
The first thing that struck me when I entered was that CMA no longer looks like it's just for little ones. Even though the museum's offerings have always catered to children of all ages, the front was invariably packed with strollers, which was a turnoff to families with older kids. Now when you enter, there's a stroller check area with direct access to the WEE (Wondrous Exploring Experience) room. This split-level space will have various art stations for kids ages 5 and under. The higher level connects to a pathway where you'll find the entryway to the beloved ball pond, and portholes that allow visitors to look down onto the first floor, including the 2,000-square-foot gallery.
This airy exhibition space serves as the centerpiece of the museum, and you can easily access the various studios and classrooms from here. At the old CMA, the exhibits were modest due to space constraints. Not anymore. The opening exhibition Make Art (In) Public explores street art, everything from Keith Haring's kinetic graffiti murals to architecture to wearable work. There are two massive murals that are just breathtaking. It's the kind of show that could never have been done in the old space. CMA now also has the room to display part of its permanent collection of children's art.
Of course more space means more hands-on art workshops and other programs. The open studio, which has a striking, multi-faucet steel sink at its center, will offer both teaching-artist-led and self-guided projects every day. Most will be geared toward school-age children (you can tell from the "big kid" tables and chairs), but there may be some offerings for younger kids. Projects related to the exhibit will also take place in the gallery on mobile work stations.
The new media section looks awesome. Joe Vena's stop-motion animation workshops have always been insanely popular, and now he'll be able to accommodate more students with better facilities. In addition to a Claymation bar, where kids can craft their characters, there's a media lab with mounted cameras, and a soundproof room for recording audio and doing radio broadcasts. And down the hall there's a quiet room for nursing moms and kids who need a break.
CMA will offer everything it had before (except the green screen play space. My daughter's going to miss that! But there's something comparable for older kids in the media section.), and so much more. In addition to increasing daily drop-in programming, CMA's slate of classes and after-school programs have expanded, and there are now two rooms for birthdays and other events.
Children's Museum of the Arts is located at 103 Charlton Street between Hudson and Greenwich Streets. Monday and Wednesday noon-5pm; Thursday and Friday noon-6pm; Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. Closed on Tuesday. $11, free for babies under 12 months.
Photos courtesy of the Children's Museum of the Arts.