High Museum of Art
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High Museum of Art

Bigger, Better, and Brighter: The High’s Unbelievable New Family Space Was Designed with You in Mind

Bring the kids (and the kid in you) and dive into a space custom-made for interactive, creative play.

By Julia Forbes, Shannon Landing Amos Head of Museum Interpretation, High Museum of Art

In October of 1968, the High Museum of Art introduced its first dedicated space for families to learn, play, and explore. Since then, our family spaces have incited the curiosity of millions of young visitors. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the High’s commitment to families, we have totally redesigned and expanded the Greene Family Learning Gallery with all-new interactive environments created in collaboration with Roto design firm.

The New and Improved Family Galleries

The new Greene Family Learning Gallery has expanded to include a second space directly across the hall — doubling its previous footprint. The two new galleries are called CREATE and EXPERIENCE.

CREATE is an open, airy space filled with activities that help children think about the process of being an artist, about making and creating. Young visitors can exercise their art-making abilities and explore creative expression.

EXPERIENCE is a deeply immersive space that encourages children to explore how art feels and where it can take us. It allows kids to imagine they have walked into a landscape painting and encourages them to experiment with scale and even become artworks themselves.

The EXPERIENCE space encourages children (and even adults) to lose themselves in the whimsical surroundings.

Both galleries are welcoming, safe, and fun. The environments provide child-centered and child-directed activities that are developmentally appropriate for children from infants through age 8. Throughout, various activities make connections to artworks in the High’s collection.

A special section in CREATE allows children to make something and “magically” send it over to EXPERIENCE for the kids there to see. Each gallery space features its own quiet room with activities designed for reflection as well as an area specifically for babies and toddlers.

The galleries’ open-ended, intuitive, multi-sensory elements combine cutting-edge technology with interactivity. From art making at the community tree, constructing with the colossal blocks, and experimenting with the color wheels to the noodle forest and color cavern, there are so many ways to play!

How Did We Develop This Space?

The High’s department of education has spent many years thoughtfully preparing for this major redesign of the Greene Family Learning Gallery. In order to create a space that truly serves our audiences, we knew we had to incorporate their input. We set out to combine visitor research, community feedback, and expert opinions to develop something truly spectacular.

The High’s education department worked closely with Roto to make their dream family space a reality.

In 2011, we completed a four-year research study with the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, on how families learn in art museum family spaces, which was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. There were two big takeaways from that study:

1. Creative play is one of the keys to the success of an interactive space.

2. Families highly value these types of galleries for the opportunity to bond and make shared memories.

In 2016, we opened Art Lab, a dynamic space for testing out new ideas. We were able to learn from family visitors about what they wanted to experience in a new gallery. We gave them sticky notes and pencils and posed three big questions. We got thousands of answers including how they feel about technology. We found out that most of them are interested in a little magical technology to make the learning feel truly current.

Families played and created together in the High’s Art Lab — an experimental space used for testing ideas in 2016.

In January 2017, we convened experts from around Atlanta who work in different areas of education, early learning, design thinking, and accessibility to brainstorm for the new Gallery. Their input was invaluable in shaping the project and creating a family gallery that we hope will be a national model.

Based on our research and community feedback, we developed a set of goals for the new space:

  • To become an essential early art experience for all families in our community
  • To offer a space for families to make memories while fostering stronger connections between caregivers and children
  • To empower children and their caregivers to explore the Museum and more confidently engage with its collection
  • To inspire wonder and encourage children to be curious about the art they encounter every day
  • To celebrate creativity, imagination, empathy, and play and to help families develop these skills through one-of-a-kind interactive experiences available only at the High.

A History of Family Spaces at the High

When the High Museum of Art opened its inaugural dedicated family space on October 5, 1968, the first installation was called Color/Light/Color (1968–1971). The space explored the nature, properties, and uses of color. Over the fifty-year history of family spaces at the High, there have been ten different installations that have delighted our young visitors. Many, now well into adulthood, still vividly remember their experiences.

Sensation (1983–1988) and Spectacles (1988–1993), High Museum of Art

Some of our most talked-about galleries are from the 1980s in the Richard Meier–designed Stent Family Wing. Both Sensation (1983–1988) and Spectacles (1988–1993) still garner gleeful excitement in the voices of people who regularly describe the fun they had there. With the 2005 addition of the buildings designed by architect Renzo Piano, we introduced the Greene Family Learning Gallery. The first installation (2005–2018) focused on five activity areas based around creative play and rooted in the High’s collection.

In a press release from 1969 or 1970, Gudmund Vigtel (director of the High Museum, 1963–1991) said: “My proudest accomplishment to date is the Junior Activities Center established within the museum … children are the art audiences of the future. The more knowledgeable they are, the greater the dialog possible between the community and the museum.” That still holds true for us today.



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