Taking kids to art museums isn’t always enlightening—for anybody. You want them to respond, engage, and get inspired. But too often there’s only whining and getting too close to priceless artwork (and annoyed stares from museum guards). But these three shows, all opening in D.C. in October, offer something even for the littlest and most skeptical art aficionado. To sweeten the deal—literally—we’re also suggesting some nearby treats.


“Van Gogh Repetitions” at the Phillips Collection
Van Gogh has been in the news lately, thanks to the discovery of a previously unknown painting, now confirmed to be one of his. This exhibition (running Oct. 12-Jan. 26) focuses on his artistic process, so observers young and old can see how he worked, step by step. Kids might have already seen The Postman, Starry Night, Bedroom at Arles, and The Road Menders; they’ll enjoy the portraiture, concrete imagery—and sheer beauty.

Post-museum treat: Stroll through the Dupont Circle neighborhood for doughnuts at GBD or ice cream at Larry’s Homemade.

The Phillips Collection
1600 21st St. NW (Kalorama Heights)
Online: phillipscollection.org


“Overdrive: LA Constructions the Future, 1940-1990” at National Building Museum
The National Building Museum is the only East Coast showing of this survey (running Oct. 20- March 10), put together by the Getty Museum—a quintessential Los Angeles source for the quintessential LA show. It’s an in-depth look at Southern California’s architecture in the second half of the twentieth century. That sounds serious, but kid-friendly multimedia is the key here: models, photos, film, digital displays. And cars!

You hardly need to bribe your little ones at NBM: it’s got fantastic kids’ exhibits, like Play Work Build and (for the youngest visitors) the Building Zone. Mini golf is closed for the season, but children can have the run (well behaved and in control, of course) of the huge atrium. And if that’s not enough, pop into the excellent children’s section of the museum shop or snag a sweet from Marvelous Market, right there inside the museum. Still cranky? Pitango Gelato is just a few blocks away.

National Building Museum
401 F St. NW (Downtown)
Online: nbm.org


“Heaven and Earth: The Art of Byzantium” at the National Gallery of Art
This is the NGA’s first exhibit of Byzantine art (running Oct. 6- March 2), all from Greece, some of it newly excavated. Kids will love its many forms, metallic finishes and bold colors. Sculpture, mosaic, fresco, glass, ceramic, even jewelry will keep them interested. And after you introduce your minis to these possibly challenging works, stroll over to the East Wing. The trip alone—through Leo Villareal’s Multiverse LED show surrounding the moving sidewalk—is a fun art experience. Then check out the mobiles and stabiles in the Calder room (animals casting shadows!) and Matisse’s lovely paper cutouts.

Treat? Gelato in the museum’s Cascade Cafe, where you can relax and watch the waterfall. Or snag a Good Humor from one of the countless trucks on the Mall.

National Gallery of Art
Constitution Ave. NW between 3rd and 9th Sts. (National Mall)
Online: nga.gov

Which art museum is your kids’ favorite? Tell us in the Comments section below. 

—Nadya Sagner

Photos courtesy of The Phillips Collection, Getty Museum, and das_kaninchen via Flickr