The de Young Museum Opens a New Play Space for Kids



Curators of San Francisco’s deYoung Museum wanted to welcome its next generation of art lovers with creative, hands-on ways to engage with the exhibits. But they weren’t about to send children out into the halls armed with paint, paper and scissors.

So, they partnered with a few local design firms to develop a brand-new interactive play space in the museum. It’s called the de Youngsters Studio and it opens Dec. 1 in the free area – which means you don’t have to pay admission to the museum to use it.

This project was two years in the making, as designers toyed with ways to allow kids to play with exhibitions without disturbing original artwork or making a mess.

“We want a space for kids to have ownership,” says Yves Behar, founder of the Potrero Hill-based design firm fuseproject, which helped create the studio. “But how do you give a hands-on experience without using the materials?”

Working with the Berkeley design firm Tellart, fuseproject and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco built five immersive activity stations aimed at children ages 3 to 8 (with assistance by accompanying adults). The stations incorporate the concepts of color, composition, shape and form, texture and sculpture. But no clean up is necessary! These activities use touch sensors, cameras and magnetic shapes.

During a recent studio preview, adults and children alike were mesmerized by the sculpture station which allows budding artists to build with magnetized blocks. Small screens show pictures of popular locations within and just outside the de Young Museum. When sculptures are placed on the augmented reality platforms below the screens, they appear virtually in the pictures and make it look like your masterpiece is on display at the museum. 

Another favorite was the shape-and-form activity that had guests standing on either side of a wall and moving their bodies frantically. Their movement was captured on live cameras – showing their forms on the walls as different-colored, intersecting silhouettes.

Nearby is a light table meant encourage eager hands to experiment with composition. Children place colorful shapes on the table and their creations are projected on studio walls using overhead projectors.

You can explore the studio’s color concept using sensor technology. Your fingers mix and drag digital pigments across a curved screen, blending primary colors to create other colors. And let’s not forget about texture, an essential piece of any artwork. Kids in the studio can learn visually about texture through interactive screens that mimic physical, textured tiles. In this way, they connect the feel of an object with its graphic representation.

“We decided to focus on children’s natural curiosity,” says Sheila Pressley, the de Young’s director of education. “These are simple things they can do to approach the museum with wonder.”

The de Youngsters Studio will be open to the public starting Dec. 1 during normal museum hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Find it on the concourse level near the tickets and information desk of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco. 415-750-3600. deyoung.famsf.org/education/de-youngsters-studio.

TDhyana Levey is the amusements columnist and East Bay calendar editor at Bay Area Parent. 

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