New York City’s leading art museums have offered tours and activities for visitors with physical disabilities for more than two decades. But in recent years, responding to—and sometimes leading—the push for inclusivity, some have also developed programs for people of all ages with developmental disabilities, or who are on the autism spectrum. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Met Fifth Avenue, The Jewish Museum and The Whitney Museum of American Art welcome these visitors—and their families and friends—with activities that foster sharing and collaboration. “These programs are designed for families,” says Lara Schweller, associate educator of community and access programs at MoMA’s Department of Education.
While the programs attract their share of regulars, visitors who drop by even once will certainly enjoy what educators from these museums have developed and refined.
MoMA, the Met and the Jewish Museum have all structured their offerings along similar lines and separate attendees into similar age groups. Please check individual museum websites for times, dates and age groups.
Classes last from 90 minutes to two hours, with the first half devoted to exploring artworks and galleries and the second half given over to exploring in the studio with a wide range of materials, from paint to fabric and everything in between. “It’s art looking and art making,” says Schweller.
Each museum starts with a morning class for children 17 years old or younger. (The youngest age admitted varies, so check with each institution in advance.) The second class, which starts at 2pm, is for anyone age 18 and over.
When MoMA began offering the classes, it separated the younger group into sections by placing a dividing wall in the classroom and keeping the teens on their own. But the teachers soon discovered that each group benefited from the contributions of the others, so they brought the two age groups together. “I was wrong,” says Schweller, laughing. “They missed the big classroom.”
Course schedules vary with each museum but all are programmed well in advance. MoMA typically holds its classes the third Sunday of each month (except for February, when that Sunday falls on a long weekend.) Classes fill up quickly and reservations are usually required, although the classes are all free not only for the students but also for their family and friends.
Programs and contact information
Access Family Workshops
The next scheduled program is set for Sunday, March 29, beginning at 10:30am for the younger children and 2pm for students 18 and above. The class invites students to tour and discuss the exhibition “Scenes from the Collection,” and then create art inspired by the show.
For more information or to register for a workshop, call 212-423-3289 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The venerable Metropolitan Museum offers multisensory workshops that explore a different theme in each session and include tactile experiences and art-making exercises.
For more information or to register for a workshop, call 212-650-2010 or email email@example.com.
Upcoming this spring are “Forms of Photography,” “Picturing Places” and “Art in 3-D.”
For more information or to register for a workshop, call 212-408-6447, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unlike the museums above, the Whitney doesn’t sort its students by age. Its hands-on art-making program, Family Fun for Kids on the Autism Spectrum, is for children 6 years old and up and their families. These programs, held once every three months, take place in the morning before the museum opens to the general public so students can explore the galleries in a sensory-friendly environment before heading into the studio to make some art. Attendance is free, but registration is required.
For more information or to register for a workshop, email email@example.com.
Museum Access Consortium offers a cultural calendar, filterable by disability, of events at arts institutions around New York City. For more information, visit macaccess.org.