Monday, August 9, 2010

You Can Smell It, Touch It, Play With It--Just Don't Eat It: The Children's Museum of the Arts

If the thought of listening to the maniacal jingle from “Elmo’s World” one more time makes you weep or if Dora the Explorer’s big, vacant, brown eyes have started seeming, well, just a bit off, turn off your television and get yourself down to the Children’s Museum of the Arts in SoHo.

Housed in an airy, loft-like building on a block straddling SoHo and Chinatown, the CMA was founded in 1988 as the only hands-on art museum for children in New York City. There is nary a popular cartoon character in sight. There isn’t even a gift shop peddling character-emblazoned tchotchke to your I’m-gonna-hold-my-breath-until-you-buy-that-for-me toddler.

On a recent Friday morning, Vivi and I met up with some friends at the CMA for their Wee-Arts Drop In program for children aged ten months to three-and-a-half years. In the open studio space on the first floor, there were stations set up for toddlers to create water-color self-portraits, glue together collages out of fake flower and moss, pieces of yarn, lace, ribbons, feathers, and other media, sculpt green Play-Doh into all sorts of shapes, paint their own tempera masterpieces, and plunge elbow-deep into a tub of irresistibly slimy “flubber.” Aside from a warning posted near the thick, oozy polymer that it might stick to clothing and hair, just about anything goes at the CMA, which seems less a museum than an indoor playground with an arts emphasis and whose unofficial credo is “You can smell it, touch it, play with it—just don’t eat it.”

Flying solo without a supporting cast of cheesy kid’s television characters, the CMA has created an original, laidback, and low-tech space for children to create, exhibit, and celebrate their own artwork. And a bonus? You won’t be frantically trying to scrub hardened Play-Doh out of your living room carpet at home.

Children’s Museum of the Arts, 182 Lafayette Street (between Broome and Grand Streets), New York, NY 10013, (212) 274-0986,; Hours: Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays; Wednesday to Sunday: 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM; Thursdays: 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM; Admission: $10 (1 to 65 years old); Thursdays from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM is pay as you wish; Wee-Arts Drop In Program: Wednesdays/Thursdays/Fridays from 10:45 PM to 12:00 PM: $22 per family.

Where to Eat:

Delicatessen, 54 Prince Street, New York, NY, (212) 226-0211;; serves all sorts of yummy comfort food, but my favorite is their buttermilk-battered fried chicken in a bucket served with ranch dressing and melt-in-your-mouth cornbread.

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