The words “art museum” tend to bring to mind a sterile environment where you can hear a pin drop. And certainly not a place for children to roam, explore and get their hands dirty.
But the days of museums being someplace where children are shushed, and kept at arm’s length, are long gone.
Museums like the Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio open their doors, and actively encourage children to interact with, and learn, through art programming. Far more than just looking at art, museum programming like drop-in classes and artist demonstrations provide children with a way to connect with information in different ways. Whether it’s reading, listening, creating or even smelling, museum programming takes information taught in classrooms, and presents it in a variety of ways that children can connect with. And that includes hands-on learning.
Why does that matter? The brain actually goes through changes when we look at art. Studies have shown that looking at a painting, sculpture, or other artwork increases blood flow to the brain by as much as 10%. That’s the same reaction you get when you look at someone you love!
Regular exposure to creativity also results in higher test scores. Young people who participate regularly in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Many studies show that children regularly engaged in creativity — such as painting and drawing classes and hands-on activities — develop a greater capacity for problem solving, risk taking, visual understanding and communication skills. These are vital life skills that allow children to grow and develop into successful and healthy adults.
Through programming, children can also learn more deeply about the world. They can discover new things about their way of life, city, and home, or experience positive affirmation of their prior experiences. These experiences lead to a greater love of themselves and their world. A greater understanding of the world around them leads to greater empathy, tolerance and critical thinking.
Museum programming can also be the space that families learn, explore and discover new things about each other and their world. Ideally, families will gain a greater understanding of art, science, history but also find the personal connection and flash of curiosity. Through the personal connection, the spark to learn and question will continue within the family even after they have left the museum. One of the goals of family programming is to ignite a curiosity that will linger long after the program is over.
Wondering how your family can step into the world of art? Seek out experiences like this summer’s “The Sons of Charlie Russell: Cowboy Artists of America” at the Briscoe. The exhibition’s gallery guide turns your family into art investigators, showing you how to evaluate art. You can then put those skills to work evaluating works and voting for the ones you feel best fit. And for sheer fun, your family can truly step into some of the paintings on display: our interactive shadow wall puts you in the picture.
You can also meet some of the artists featured in the exhibition. Through Labor Day, enjoy “Cowboy Creations” featuring members of the Cowboy Artists of America demonstrating their artistic techniques, talking about their inspirations and sharing insights on their art. Events include a paint-along session, as well as sculpture demonstrations, giving everyone a chance to learn from these talented cowboy artists.
The Briscoe also offers a variety of ways for children to directly engage in hands-on learning. Go “Full STEAM Ahead” each month, exploring a different topic or theme inspired by a painting or piece from the museum’s collection. Combining science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math to guide student inquiry, discussion, and problem-solving, each session features an activity that brings everything together to enhance learning. Children 12 and under receive free general admission to the Briscoe, making the program an affordable, and engaging, family outing.
An event not to miss is the Briscoe’s annual National Day of the Cowboy Celebration. Held on the fourth Saturday of July, the free community event features indoor and outdoor activities for cowpokes of all ages. This year’s celebration will feature “The Sons of Charlie Russell” with artist demonstrations to include leatherworking and metalsmithing, while children can spend the day doing hands-on crafts and fun. Saddle up with your family and head west for a day you won’t forget.
Art is a creative, approachable way to engage young minds. Whether it’s through storytime programs, hands-on activities, or STEAM learning experiences, help unlock your children’s potential by making museums and museum programming part of your family activities.
A List of Summer Programs:
Cowboy Creations: Learn from Cowboy Artists
Bringing the art of The Sons of Charlie Russell to life, members of the Cowboy Artists of America are appearing in a series of demonstrations and talks throughout the exhibition. Guests can enjoy meeting and watching these talented cowboy artists share the processes behind their work. All sessions are included in general museum admission.
- Chad Poppleton (Paint-along)
Saturday, Aug, 6
- Bruce Greene (part of The Lessons of Our Fathers Panel)
Saturday, Aug. 27, 10 – 11:30 a.m.
- Teal Blake (Paint-along)
Saturday, Sept. 3, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
- Jason Scull (Sculpture Demonstration)
Saturday, Sept. 3, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Steaming into the West with The Sons of Charlie Russell
Families and visitors of all ages are invited to learn about the American West through the works featured in The Sons of Charlie Russell during the museum’s “Full STEAM Ahead” series on the third Saturday of each month. From transportation and weather to animals, astronomy and engineering, each program explores an aspect of life in the West to engage and inspire learning. Full STEAM Ahead is included with museum general admission. Children 12 and under receive free admission to the Briscoe.
- Full STEAM Ahead: Whimsical Windmills
Saturday, August 20, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
While conservation and renewable energy efforts may seem like new solutions to the energy crisis, cowboys and settlers alike used renewable energy long before access to gas and electricity was ever invented. Guests will learn how windmills were some of our first sources of alternative energy.
Free Cowboy Fun: National Day of the Cowboy Celebration
Tippin’ its hat and celebrating the legacy of the cowboy, cowgirl and vaquero, the Briscoe Western Art Museum presents its annual National Day of the Cowboy celebration on Saturday, July 23, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Briscoe. The free community event, which includes free admission to the museum and its exhibitions, features indoor and outdoor activities for cowpokes of all ages. This year’s celebration will feature The Sons of Charlie Russell, with artist demonstrations to include leatherworking, metalsmithing and more. Saddle up with your family and head west for a day you won’t forget.
About Melanie Schwebke
Melanie has a MA in Museum Education from Tufts University and over a decade of experience working in museums. She has experience developing curriculum, creating and planning professional development workshops, creating and leading school tours and feels passionately about supporting teachers any way possible. As a museum educator, Melanie also strives to create public and family programming that connects western art to the community.
About The Briscoe Western Art Museum
Preserving and presenting the art, history and culture of the American West through engaging exhibitions, educational programs and public events reflective of the region’s rich traditions and shared heritage, the Briscoe Western Art Museum is located on the San Antonio River Walk. From its McNutt Sculpture Garden to the museum’s beautifully restored historic home inside the former San Antonio Public Library building, the Briscoe collection spans 14 galleries, with special exhibitions, events and a fantastic Museum Store, providing art, culture, history and entertainment. Admission is always free for children 12 and under and for active duty military members.