Words and images by Ashton Elder
It is a Tuesday evening at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and a rabble of rambunctious children is playing outside on the lush lawn. The soundtrack is a mix of the giggling of a pigtailed girl doing cartwheels and the chatting of two women holding infants and eying their older children as they sit on the top of the museum steps.
Dusk settles as families of various shapes and sizes enter and exit the building. It is already past 6 this evening but tonight the museum will remain open for another three hours.
Tuesday nights mean late hours at the Cummer and they also mean that the vast array of exhibits and assortment of other offerings the museum has can be enjoyed free of charge. On these evenings families flock to a particular museum attraction: the Cummer’s children’s museum.
Ninah willed that her collection be made into a museum along with her elaborate home and gardens which are nestled in the heart of the Riverside area. The Cummer Museum has since established itself as a place for Jacksonvillians to experience some of the best the city has to offer in art and culture ever since it opened its doors in 1961.
The Cummer also now houses a unique interactive and educational children’s area. A section is set up especially for tots with all sorts of art-related installations, interactive games and educational displays.
On this particular Tuesday, a raven-haired 8-year-old boy, Kayden Ramirez of Jacksonville, plays with the controllers on Picture Perfect, an interactive virtual paint pallet module.
He is able to take a brief break from his enjoyment of a myriad of displays to talk about what he loves most about the children’s museum.
“Well I definitely like the heat and vision chamber … and I definitely like the noodles. I especially like the colors [Picture Perfect]. I like the gallery area for kids under 5 even though I’m not under 5,” he says in rapid excitement, unable to come up with a favorite.
He says all children should come to the Cummer to learn about history, which the museum has brought alive with various special children’s exhibits of art and art history.
Two of note are Art Connections, which brings art to life with things such as video installations and life-sized cutouts of impressionist paintings and Creativity Timeline, a vibrant three-dimensional mural depicting the entirety of art history, which spans an entire wall.
As she plays next to him Kayden’s 4-year-old sister, Jaylenn, adds that she loves art and recommends that other children who like arts should visit the museum.
The children’s mother, Toshia Ramirez, takes her children to the Cummer often on Tuesday evenings.
“There’s different things to see and different eras to learn about, things such as artist’s techniques and use of textures, the styles of different paintings and architecture,” she says. “There are so many different things that they can learn from.”
On this particular evening Mary Smith, who is visiting Jacksonville from out of town, decided to take her children to the Cummer as well.
“We have five children ranging in ages from 14 years old to 15 months and this is something that all of them can do. Even the baby has seen things that has caught his eye and interested him,” she says. “One of our sons is particularly interested in art, which is what brought us here initially but they are all enjoying the exhibits. Anytime you can mix fun with education it is always going to be a bonus with kids.”
In addition, the Cummer offers seasonal art classes as well as educational tours for children.
This summer’s class selection offers events for every age group, from landscape “painting for two,” in which children ages 3 to 5 can attend alongside their “favorite adult,” to classes for teens.
The museum also offers special tours for its younger patrons.
The educational tours take a hands-on approach. For example, the children’s tours allow for time for students to play on installations inside the children’s museum and engages them with a group art project as well.
The world of art the Cummer has created for children to experience is truly whimsical and enticing. And on the museum’s special free Tuesday nights the chatter and laughter echoing in the children’s museum underscores the staff’s success at giving children a bit of fun-filled magic along with an art lesson.