Fun, Exciting, and For Kids! BMA Presents an all-new children and family gallery experience in 2012

  • BIRMINGHAM, Alabama
  • /
  • October 24, 2011

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This is an artist's rendering of the new children's gallery at the Birmingham Museum of Art

The Birmingham Museum of Art is excited to announce a new, interactive children and family gallery in the space formerly housing the popular Town of A Creek Nation installation. Expanding to cover both the Hess and Sonat Gallery spaces, the new gallery will be an enjoyable, colorful, ever-changing way for kids and their parents to learn about art.

The Hess and Sonat family gallery is expected to open around Spring Break 2012, a gift to the  Birmingham community as the Museum celebrates its 60th year.

“What I envisioned was a space that would more comprehensively reflect the breadth and depth of the collection and engage kids with the collection,” said BMA Curator of Education Samantha Kelly. “I wanted it to be open, modern, fresh, and innovative, and a big driving force in these designs is that we wanted the capacity for change. It’s not static, but a dynamic space, always changing.

“And,” she added, “We want it to be fun. It’s going to be really cool.”

This space in the new Birmingham Museum of Art children's gallery will be dedicated to teaching the smallest visitors.

The Museum selected Somerset, a Huntsville-based design group, to devise the new modular design, featuring elements that will let kids get creative and make their own art together or in collaboration with others. “Everything is designed so that more than one person can participate, to inspire conversation between kids and families,” Kelly said. “The Museum is trying to embrace the actual concept of community within the space.”

The goals of the redesign, explained Kelly, are to enhance hands-on learning in fun ways that are inspired by the Museum’s stellar collection of art.  “As part of an ongoing strategic evaluation process at the Museum, we have really placed an emphasis on our commitment to serving children and families,” she said.  “We want to get on families' mental radar, as a destination for learning and creativity. With this new family gallery, we are creating a place where art comes alive, in a bright, fun space that, in turn, reflects the diversity of the Museum's fantastic permanent collection.”

Every element of the new gallery will refer to the collection, and “then prompt you to go and find it,” Kelly said. “We are really making it a billboard, a broadcast of what we hope can happen inside the Museum.”

Some elements of the collection will be very easy to see in the new kids gallery. The entrance wall to the space will include a representation of a huge detail from Roy Lichtenstein’s sculpture Brushstroke V. Inside the Sonat portion of the gallery will be texture blocks based on objects in the collection, African masks, and a large cartoon of BMA family mascot Bart The Art Bat, which itself is derived from a Pre-Columbian gold artifact on display at the Museum.

A green screen in the Hess section of the gallery will allow visitors to -- virtually-speaking -- step into one of the Museum’s works, such as Albert Bierstadt’s iconic painting Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California and then email the digital image to themselves. An artbar in the center of the gallery will allow visitors to make art, including decorating ceramic pots representing some of those in the BMA collection.

A giant smartboard in the space will give budding contemporary artists the chance to create a digital abstract painting using their hands, or feet, or even their heads to generate the colors, shapes, and patterns of their choice. A Buddha Board station will challenge  kids to create calligraphy or brush paintings inspired by the BMA’s vast collection of Asian works.

Children will be able to work in age-appropriate zones, the Sonat space being specifically set aside for toddlers and even crawlers, Kelly said. “It will allow us to really reach out more comprehensively to an audience we haven’t successfully targeted in the past.”

The hallway linking the Hess and Sonat spaces will be a showcase for community artists, offering various “sensory-based” works during the course of a year.

The only thing missing is the name. BMA invites members of the community to submit names for the new space, with the winning submission getting a free private party in the space before  it  opens to the general public. “We want a name that captures the spirit of the gallery – a wondrous, dynamic place where you can explore the world with fresh eyes, make new connections to art and people, experience the possibilities of the creative process, and discover something unexpected about art, the Museum, and yourself.”

To enter the naming contest, visit the Museum’s web site,

If the BMA education department has its way, the new kid’s gallery will have impact beyond the walls of the Museum. “We want it to provoke conversation about how art, creativity, exploration, and discovery can be a part of your life after the Museum visit,” said Kelly.

Birmingham Museum of Art
2000 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. BLVD
Birmingham, AL, Alabama
About Birmingham Museum of Art

About the Birmingham Museum of Art: Founded in 1951, the Birmingham Museum of Art has one of the finest collections in the Southeast. More than 24,000 objects displayed and housed within the Museum represent a rich panorama of cultures, including Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American. Highlights include the Museum’s collection of Asian art, Vietnamese ceramics, the Kress collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the late 13th century to the 1750s, and the Museum’s world-renowned collection of Wedgwood, the largest outside of England.

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