Free Family Art Activities: Morningside Lights with Glowing Lanterns
Collaborative art project Morningside Lights returns for its fourth annual edition this September, and this year some of its FREE crafting sessions take place on days when NYC public schools are closed. This weeklong series of lantern-making workshops is open to artists ages 8 and up, and culminates in a spectacular illuminated procession in Morningside Park. No skill or experience is necessary, but advance registration is required. We've got the scoop on how to snag a spot creating awesome light-up art alongside other NYC families.
My 10-year-old and I have participated in Morningside Lights every year since it started in 2012, and we love its retro, '80s art scene vibe. As with any cool FREE experience in NYC, Morningside Lights gets more popular and crowded every year. Lantern-making sessions just went up for grabs and they're filling up fast. If you've got creative school-age kids who love coming up with fantastical artwork with little guidance, this is a must-try event. Bonus: There are sessions on Wednesday, September 23 and Thursday, September 24, when NYC public schools are closed for Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, respectively.
Morningside Lights is the brainchild of married artists Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Processional Arts Workshop, the group behind those giant puppets at the annual Village Halloween Parade. This year's theme is New York Nocturne, so participants will be asked to design lanterns inspired by things that come alive after dark in our city, from club-goers to raccoons, garbage trucks to light-topped skyscrapers. Building workshops take place at Columbia University's Miller Theatre (116th Street and Broadway) from Saturday, September 19 to Friday, September 25, and you must sign up for the time slots you want in advance. Weekend hours go fast, but weekday evenings and those two school holidays should work for kids, too.
The big thing to remember about Morningside Lights is that it's a collaboration. You will most likely not work on a lantern from start to finish. Perhaps you craft the skeleton and someone else puts on the papier-mâché and colorful crepe paper. Or maybe you're the one working on the final step. There is no ownership here and you don't get to take the lanterns home, so keep that in mind if your child is too young to appreciate the concept.
Speaking of ages, as the sign-up form says, Morningside Lights is aimed at grown-ups but families with children ages 8 and up are welcome. You will be working with materials like wire, bamboo, cheesecloth and crepe paper, so it's an activity best for more mature kids, particularly those with an art thumb or who are patient and not easily frustrated. Parents must stick around and hopefully participate. This is not a drop-off situation! While Alex and Sophia (who are parents, themselves) are happy to share pointers about how to realize your vision, artists are pretty much left to their own devices. Sessions last three hours and though no one is required to stay for the entire time, it's important to arrive at the start, so you won't miss the demonstration of various building techniques. All tools and materials are provided, just dress for mess.
Kids of all ages can enjoy the Morningside Lights activities in Morningside Park on Saturday, September 26. There will be a daytime drop-in crafts table for children as part of the park's annual Common Ground Festival. Come nightfall, the illuminated parade will light up the park and surrounding neighborhood with all kinds of spectacular creations complemented by a live soundscape (participants are encouraged to bring their own instruments and it's always a bit cacophonous). Even those who don't make a lantern can sign up to participate in the parade by playing music or holding creations. Frankly, my family and I prefer to sit on the sidelines taking pictures. It's less time consuming and stressful—in the past I've seen adults argue over who gets to hold which lantern, if you can believe it.
For more information about Morningside Lights, including some great pictures of past editions, visit morningside-lights.com.
Originally published September 2014.