Art Galleries at the National Mall with Kids
The art galleries at the National Mall in Washington, DC has lots of art that you can view for free. It’s an excellent place to introduce your kids to art of many different kinds. The galleries and sculpture gardens are located on the East side of the National Mall. In addition, the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, Portrait Gallery, and Museum of American Art are all only a short distance off the mall.
National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden
Unlike most of the Museums and Galleries along the National Mall the National Gallery of Art is not run by the Smithsonian Institute. This National gallery is supported by public and private partnerships and like the Smithsonian galleries is free of charge.
The gallery is housed in two buildings – the east features modern art while the west features primarily European paintings and sculptures. In addition to the art itself the works are often exhibited in galleries decorated to make the time period and nationality of the art work.
We didn’t make it inside the Gallery, but they also operate the sculpture garden located between the National Gallery of Art and the Natural History Museum.
The Sculpture garden opened in 1999 and surrounds the pre-existing fountain that doubles as a skating rink in the winter months. The sculpture gardens features contemporary art sculptures and was a really fun place to see art with the kids. See more about the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden here.
Smithsonian Art Galleries
The Smithsonian operates four art galleries along the National Mall: The National Museum of African Art, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens and the connected Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art.
National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is considered to be very family friendly and hosts daily events and programs for kids. The art inside of extremely varied and the museum frequently hosts performances of storytellers, musicians and films. If you were to pick one indoor gallery to take your kids, this would be your best bet.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art
The Sackler and Freer Art galleries are both Asian art museums. The two museums are separate but connected by an underground exhibition space.
The galleries are fairly traditional and are unlikely to be of interest to most younger children.
The collections are impressive though and sure to be a hit with art lovers in your family.
The vast majority of the Sackler gallery actually lies below ground and it can feel like a bit of a maze to get around.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The Hirshhorn features modern and contemporary art it can be a great place to introduce kids to art as the exhibits could seldom be accused of being boring, however they not always family-friendly so you’ll want to consider what exhibits are on display. I spent a lot of time at this museum with my son asking “What’s that?” And answering “It’s art”.
The Hirshhorn also has a sunken modern art sculpture garden. This is another great place for kids to view art without having to deal with the stress of an indoor space.
You’ll also be able to see individual pieces of artwork around the National Mall such as the Gwenfritz which has recently been relocated back to its original location outside of the National Museum of American History.
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