There's no shortage of art museums in New York City, but the Whitney Museum of American Art is the only one devoted to showcasing contemporary American art. While displaying the works of many well-established American artists, the Whitney Museum is unique in its dedication to presenting the works of living artists whose works often contains social messages.
The Whitney Museum in NYC is a must-see for families and kids to learn about important artists making their mark in the present day. Since modern art can be a bit intimidating even for grown-ups, we've gathered our top tips for a family-friendly outing to this unique museum and our favorite kids' activities to enjoy while you're there.
Read on for our top tips for visiting the Whitney Museum in NYC, and find all our top culture spots for kids in our New York City Museums, Galleries, and Exhibits Guide.
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The Whitney expanded its art collection in 2015 following its move to a brand new, modern building at the intersection of The High Line and the Hudson River. Its location allows breathtaking views of the Hudson River and Midtown Manhattan that can be appreciated from several outdoor terraces.
Kids love the unique building and the outdoor spaces where they can run around or take a break. There are also some outdoor sculptures to enjoy while taking in the views.
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The Whitney Museum houses a vast collection of contemporary American art including The Rose, left, and American Totem, right.
What To See at the Whitney Museum with Kids
Kids enjoy the Whitney Museum's semi-permanent exhibition entitled The Whitney's Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965. What they get out of depends on their age. See some of the famous flower paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, the whimsical forms and patterns in the paintings of Alexander Calder, and representations of American life by Edward Hopper. Kids of all ages especially enjoy Calder's Circus, the famous kinetic sculpture Calder made from everyday objects.
My teen girls really liked Jay DeFeo's The Rose, a cross between a painting and sculpture where the image of the rose appears to emerge from the canvas. For older children, certain works like Norman Lewis' American Totem may prompt more conversations about various societal issues like racism.
The bright colors and motifs in the paintings featured in the exhibit that highlights American modernism appeal to young kids who can learn about how artists represent ideas and objects in creative and unique ways.
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Be sure to save time to step outside to the terrace to check out the sculptures and the views.
It's also important to consider the age and sensitivity of your children when deciding whether to explore certain exhibits. The Whitney Museum always has several special exhibitions on view but not all of them are kid-friendly. On our most recent visit, we were able to see the works in The Biennial, which grappled with challenging subjects like the pandemic, police violence, and racial injustice. And while my kids loved the film 2 Lizards, a surrealist take on the early months of the pandemic some grown-ups might find it too raunchy for younger children.
For its newest exhibit, the Whitney Museum dedicates an exhibition Hopper's depictions of New York through sketches, drawings, and paintings. We expect it to be particularly kid-friendly for little New Yorkers who can recognize the city they live in and see how it's changed over the past several decades.
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Beyond seeing the art, the Whitney Museum offers plenty of programs to allow visitors of all-ages to connect with the pieces and create their own works.
Family-Friendly Activities at the Whitney Museum
The Whitney Museum offers various family programs for kids and grown-ups to learn about the artists and their work together. On select Saturdays, the Whitney hosts Open Studio where kids make their own art inspired by the works in the collection. These sessions are included with admission.
After viewing the works, kids and grown-ups can take on the Whitney's Art Challenge to further understand what the artists were thinking and how they created their art. These FREE activities allow you to continue your Whitney Museum experience at home.
There are also several FREE kids' activity guides for many of the exhibits. You can grab them at the museum or even print them out before you go to help you plan your outing. It'll help keep the kids engaged and interacting with the work.
The Whitney Museum offers special programs for children on the autism spectrum and visitors with visual impairments. For teens, make sure to check out the Whitney Museum's website for various after-school and summer programs, internships, workshops, and teen events.
Where to Eat near the Whitney Museum
There's a cafe on the ground floor of the museum that sells drinks, pastries, soups, and sandwiches. There are also plenty of places right outside the Whitney Museum, including a Shake Shack, Chelsea Market, and Bubby's. You can also find several food options on The High Line, which we recommend visiting after the museum, assuming the kids aren't too wiped out.
Know Before You Go To the Whitney with Kids
- Admission is $25 for adults and FREE for anyone ages 18 and under.
- Visit on Fridays from 7-10pm for pay-what-you-wish hours.
- The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
- Purchase your timed-entry tickets before visiting to skip the line
- Strollers are permitted in the galleries.
- Parents should keep an eye on children on the gallery terraces as there may be gaps in the railings that small kids can fit through.
A previous version of this post was published in 2015. It has since been updated. All photos by the author