Elegant, moving, statuesque. All words which might be used to describe a selection of large art installations occupying contemplative, outdoor spaces in and around Washington, D.C., but how about kid-friendly, wide open, and not-breakable? Yes! Little ones and outdoor sculpture, it turns out, are a good combination, and a refreshing alternative to the playground circuit—not to mention a worthwhile history lesson on everything from civil rights, to artistic and religious freedom.

Photo: Jaime Loucky via Flickr

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
While perhaps not first on the list of child and parent National Mall outings, the quirky, and always interesting Hirshhorn is a place for families seeking both quiet solitude and the little bit of chaos we all thrive in. With plenty of space to run around both on its front plaza, and in the sculpture garden located below the museum entrance, the Hirshorn’s collection exposes visitors to a wide-range of sculpture artists like the classical Auguste Rodin, and modernist Roy Lichtenstein.

Independence Ave., SW and 7th St., SW (National Mall)
Online: hirshhorn.si.edu

Lincoln Park
While its namesake’s record on civil rights is well ingrained, the second historical figure in sculpture on the grounds of Lincoln Park, Capitol Hill’s largest, is equally impressive . Dedicated in 1974, the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, African American educator, activist and presidential advisor necessitated the repositioning of Lincoln’s so the two would face each other. At the time, Ms. Bethune was the first Black woman honored in a Washington DC public park, made possible through the fundraising efforts of The National Council of Negro women, an organization founded by her in 1935.

East Capitol St., SE and 13th St., SE (Capitol Hill)
Online: nps.gov

The Kreeger Museum
This once private Northwest home turned modern art enclave, is home to more than a dozen outdoor sculptures installed throughout the museum’s grounds, also featuring the always fun for kids, a reflecting pool. Beginning September 19, 2017, the museum and its recently expanded garden, now 5 and ½ acres, will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM, and will unveil a new arrival of touchable outdoor art. Allow kiddo to wander also amongst the trees and discover an earlier installed exhibit called Portals , composed of seven stainless steel and mirrored columns wrapped in wire, inviting visitors to explore the mazelike natural world.

2401 Foxhall Rd., NW
Online: kreegermuseum.org

Photo: A.Currell via Flickr

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Open until 7 p.m. every night through October 3rd (9:30 p.m. on Fridays), and featuring a large fountain and Pavilion Café (serving kid-approved cheese pizza), this collection spread over 6 1/2 acres on the National Mall, is a go to spot with young residents and visitors in any season. Ice skating, beginning in November, and a popular outdoor family friendly Jazz series June to August, round out the sculpture attractions, including works by greats like Calder, Oldenburg, and David Smith.

6th and Constitution Ave., NW (National Mall)
Online: nga.gov

Baltimore Museum of Art
If your family has yet to visit the Baltimore Museum of Art, it is time to make the trip for free admission and children’s activities on Sundays. Begin however, with the sculpture garden, where on a crisp Fall day kiddo will forget the urban landscape that surrounds him, charmed for certain by this Charm City’s landscaped outdoor art collection. A two terraced garden features thirty plus pieces including a Calder and a Rodin in the earlier 20th Century Wurtzberger garden, and later 20th century work in the Levi garden, including one with a title any toddler to teenager can appreciate, Spitball, by Tony Smith.

10 Art Museum Dr. (Baltimore, Md)
Online: artbma.org

Photo: Ted Eytan via Flickr 

Meridian Hill Park
Most prominently featured at this family-favorite, also known as Malcom X Park, is the many-tiered fountain, perfect for running up and down and making wishes. There is also the well-celebrated Sunday drum circle popular amongst families. Easily missed however, are commemorations to two of the most passionate thinkers in medieval history, inspiring to both young and old. Begin with the only female equestrian statute in all of D.C., that of Joan of Arc. Next, find 14th Century thinker Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, installed here as a tribute to Italian Americans.

16th St., NW & W St., NW (Columbia Heights)
Online: nps.gov

Anne Marie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center
Discover a new kind of outdoor art called Tree Pops, artwork hidden in the knots of trees amongst this 30 acre reserve in Solomons, Maryland. With activities throughout the year including annual mud and fairy festivals, or the upcoming Artsfest (September 16 – 17), and Cardboard Day of Play (October 15), the programming reflects the importance of time spent with children and grandchildren for the Garden’s founders, D.C. area architect Francis Koenig and his wife, Annmarie. Spend time in the Fairy Lolly and stroll Women’s Walk where pieces on loan from the Hirshorn celebrate the female form . Honoring local heritage as well, other pieces range from a commemoration at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay watermen, The Oyster Tonger, to Thirteen Talking Benches, arranged throughout the garden and inlaid with plant mosaics native to Southern Maryland.

13480 Dowell Rd. (Dowell, Md)
Online: annmariegarden.org

Do you have a favorite sculpture garden? Tell us about it in the comments section below.


—Carolyn Ross