In what was once the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, the uptown Manhattan neighborhood of Sugar Hill is experiencing a second renaissance almost 100 years later. With more and more young families moving into the historic area, Sugar Hill is getting something no area with such a population explosion can do without: its own children’s museum.

photo: Alina Adams

New & Improved
The newly-erected Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling quietly opened its doors late last year. But this summer brings the museum’s big coming out party as an NYC art institution, with the debut of two brand new exhibitions. In fact, SHCMAS doesn’t want to be thought of as simply a children’s museum or, for that matter, an art museum. It’s an art museum — for children.

Visitors entering the sparkling, modern facility begin by taking a curving staircase down one level and into an area designated “The Living Room.” There, the walls are currently awash in color, featuring the mural, The Pollen Catchers Color Mixing Machine created by artist Saya Woodfalk and her young daughter, Aya. The figures on the walls are a combination of Egyptian-inspired hieroglyphics, steam-punk machinery, animal imagery and rainbows bursting when you least expect them.

Comfy benches line the length of each wall, allowing for contemplation, while one end of the hall features a stage designated for weekly performances on Thursday, Friday and Sunday (every third Sunday of the month is free!). Acts include historical story-tellers spinning yarns new and old from the community, as well as musicians, puppeteers, costume makers, and even the little listeners themselves, as they all combine to bring dramatic play to life.

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photo: Michael Palma Mir

King or Queen for a Day
Veer to the left, and you’ll find yourself entering The Salon, and its The Crown Futures: Shani Peters in Collaboration with Sugar Hill Youth exhibition — via red carpet, no less! Look up to find yourself beneath a canopy of crowns made by multimedia artist Peters and various children from the community during an after-school program.

Traditional headdresses from Africa mix with crowns from a variety of Western cultures through the ages, driving home the point that everyone is connected to the kings and queens of the past. Wondering what you’d look like as the royal family? Step right up and try on the crown of your choice, and get a picture taken to share with the world!

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photo: Michael Palma Mir

A Diverse Collection
The Legacy Gallery houses the most traditional part of the museum. Paintings on loan from The Studio Museum in Harlem allow children to see a wide variety of artistic styles, from black and white realism, to near-Impressionist level pointillism, to music expressed as art. All feature faces and skin-tones traditional art museums might overlook, or merely feature as exotica.

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photo: Michael Palma Mir

An Artist is Present
For children interested in how art is actually made, the museum hosts David Shrobe, (pictured, above left) an Artist-in-Residence who holds open studio days during which you can actually observe his process and ask questions. Working with found materials, Shrobe creates new context from old and discarded content. His current personal favorite is a work addressing the issue of slavery.

photo: Alina Adams

Not Just Looking — Doing! 
Let’s be honest: art typically makes its most lasting impact on kids when they create it themselves, and this is where the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling really shines.

After touring The Living Room, The Salon, The Studio and The Legacy Gallery, take a right into the Emillia Reggio-inspired creation space, where the only decision visitors must make — and it’s not an easy one — is which activity to try first. Will it be painting? Drawing? Collaging?

Visitors can twist some pipe-cleaners to the communal art project on the wall; sculpt with moon-sand or other natural materials like pinecones, polished rocks and large pieces of wood, or build an entire mini city out of cardboard city.

Although the art space is recommended for children up to eight years old, we had to drag the nine and and 12 year-old we brought with us out of there. Because the material is so flexible and there aren’t concrete activities one should do in the space, anyone of any age can be engaged (and have fun) here. (Be advised for those with very little ones, the space is chock-full of choking hazards, so you’ll want to be vigilant.)

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum works in collaboration with their on-site preschool, as well as many community public schools. There are also open technique workshops on Sundays, and a summer camp.

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photo: Michael Palma Mir

Good to Know Before You Go
The plan is for exhibitions to rotate regularly. The Color Mixing Machine Mural will be up through August, while The Studio Museum’s art returns home in September. Shrobe’s work is on display through August 20, 2016, and the crowns come down December 31, 2016. We recommend not missing any of it!

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling
Open: Thurs. & Fri., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat. & Sun. Noon to 5 p.m.
Tickets: $7/Adults; $4/ages 9-17, free/ages 8 and under
898 St. Nicholas Avenue @ West 155 Street
Harlem
212-335-0004
Online: sugarhillmuseum.org

Will you be heading to check out the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling? 

— Alina Adams