Most of the great exhibits at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum would work just about anywhere: kids can learn about nature, other cultures, splash and run around in the Totally Tots area. But with its new exhibit “Our City”, the museum gets hyper-local and enlists the work of seven NYC area artists to help visiting families start a conversation about New York’s communities, the people who live in them, and how the city is changing — for better or for worse. We dropped in to check it out — here’s the scoop!

Photo by Priscilla Stadler.

photo: Photo by Priscilla Stadler

Art You Can Touch
Unlike previous exhibits at the museum, “Our City” utilizes contemporary art as a catalyst for conversation; Each piece of art featured in the installation is paired with an interactive activity and leading questions. Of course, some kids who visit will simply enjoy the hands-on experiences and move on. But the museum hopes that parents will be able to use this exhibit as a way to encourage kids to think about what makes a community.

At the beginning of the exhibit, visitors encounter three long tables with layered board meant to resemble a river. Kids can use an eclectic mix of found objects to set up their own cityscapes. The tables are part of James Rojas’ interactive urban planning model, and are a fun way to be creative and get thinking about what makes a good city layout. Odds and ends like colorful feathers, wooden dowels, and other trinkets are a blast to set up however kids want (chances are, you’ll get sucked in too).

Nearby, Aisha Cousins’ road map pasted on the floor provides an opportunity to be even more active. The map is composed of Malcolm X Boulevards from around the world, and asks the question of how much the name of your neighborhood represents its culture.

Brooklyn Children's Museum Our City

The People in The Neighborhood
Moving along you’ll find a large construction board with traditional oil portraits of people from around the Crown Heights neighborhood, the home of the museum. Each portrait in Rusty Zimmerman’s Free Portrait Project also comes with an audio file (accessible by scanning a QR code) of the people in the portraits speaking about growing up in the area. Little artists can discuss who they would want to see on a portrait, then make the portrait a reality at a nearby art station.

The Fabric of a City
In another area, building shapes made from fragile-looking materials are hung up like drying laundry. Children are encouraged to interact with Priscilla Stadler’s Fragile City work, which is meant to get worn down and frayed over the course of the show, representing how a city grows and weathers with time. Kids will dig the bright colors and the feel of walking between the thin sheets.

Brooklyn Children's Museum Our City

Building Fences
Oasa Duverney and Mildred Beltre’s Hi-Art Machine mixes a familiar city sight — chain-link fences — with brightly colored ribbons; the result is patterns and messages woven into the metal structures. Nearby, kids will find a “blank slate” fence, with a basket full of ribbons of all different colors for them to create their own fence weaving.

Finally, throughout the exhibit black silhouettes of the city’s 61 housing developments adorn the walls; it’s an installation by Elizabeth Hamby titled Alphabet City. The artist and the museum are working on potentially creating 3D printouts of the shapes, which kids will be able to use to create their own cities.

A Changing Exhibit
The theme of Our City is how we interact with our space, and it’s reflected even in the way it’s set up: since this is new for the museum, the exhibit is meant to grow and change according to how people interact with it. Throughout the run, the museum will also be hosting programs and workshops conducted by the artists of the installations. Keep an eye on the Brooklyn Children’s Museum website for a lineup of upcoming public programs.
Our City
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Mar. 10 – Sept. 4
Free with museum admission
145 Brooklyn Ave.
Crown Heights
718-735-4400
Online: brooklynkids.org

Are you excited for this new kind of exhibit at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

—Yuliya Geikhman