An artsy night out with the kids

Sep 24, 2008 at 6:44 a.m. ET

About a year ago, my husband told me about an artists cooperative near his office. Housed in a converted old mill, this cooperative opens its doors to the public on the first Friday of every month. Visitors were invited to browse the small studios, talk with the artists, and generally open their eyes to something new. It sounded like a lot of fun.

Father and Son looking at ArtFor months we looked for a first Friday that we could do this as a couple, but nothing seemed to work out. Finally, last month, on the spur of the moment, we decided it try it with the whole family. At the last minute we decided we'd take the kids with us to the studios and to dinner. I'm so glad we did.

In and out of the comfort zone

We're fairly comfortable taking the kids into the city. Although we aren't doing so as much as we have in the past, it's not something we are afraid of. We know our city well, and we knew this cooperative was in an up and coming area. While we would be on the very fringes of, um, less up and coming areas, we felt it was safe on a late summer evening with fading light.

While I drove in with the kids, my husband checked the schedule, double-checked the location, and glanced at a map to get some ideas for parking. We picked up my husband outside his office and we're ready for an adventure in all forms -- the first of which involved city parking. Turned out we found a fabulous spot only two blocks (safely) away from the studios. The kids love the city, and have received some instruction on city safety (not much different from suburban safety, really). We were in good shape.

Go early and know your limits

We were on the early end of the open house hours, and that probably was a good thing with the kids, especially Sunshine. As the evening went on and the building became busier, our stress level did increase a bit. We also didn't feel pressured to see every single studio and left when we felt we needed to.

The cooperative itself was great. While most of the artists were painters of one kind of another (abstract to photorealism, very commercial to very individual in vision) or photographers, there were some sculptors and mixed media artists with some intriguing work. One sculptor used wire to create caricature figures that had additional drama when they were made to cast a shadow on the wall -- the kids really liked that. Some artists were older, some younger, some formally trained, but most not. Some were on their second or third careers and obviously enjoying themselves immensely. There were some seriously happy people there. Some studios offered nibbles and beverages to tide us over until dinner -- many just opened our eyes to new points of view and new ways to approach art.

After something new, something familiar

After the studios we went to dinner at a familiar restaurant and talked about what we had seen. The boys were animated and bright talking about their favorites and why they thought this or that was cool or weird or whatever. Sunshine, a little overwhelmed maybe, just nodded vigorously when we asked if she liked it. Then asked for another French fry.

I think the spur-of-the-moment evening was a great thing to do. The kids saw not only different points of view from an artistic standpoint, but also that one can make all kinds of art at different points in his or her life. I think the bigger message was about doing interesting, fun things as a family and making conscious choices in ones life for happiness and fulfillment.

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