Building Family Time with Build-A-Bike

March 11, 2015
– By Heather Palatucci

As a parent of young children (3 & 6), I’m always looking for fun, interesting, and educational activities to do locally. And when they’re reasonably priced–or even free–all the better! 

Enter the Hammer Kids programs at the Hammer Museum. We discovered these events a few months ago, and we’re completely hooked. Most recently, we attended Close Encounters: Build-A-Bike. The Close Encounters program is geared towards families, encouraging them to experience art together, in an engaging and playful way.   

At the start of the event we were given a clipboard, pencil, and workbook for each child. The workbook included prompts to guide us to explore the exhibition Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio.

Given these prompts, my children were able to ask questions and explore the gallery in a way that would otherwise never have happened. Just having a question or two to think about really focused the visit… it’s so easy to walk around a museum aimlessly, looking at all the amazing pieces, but not truly go in depth with any one piece. But through Close Encounters, we were given focus, ideas, questions… making the visit less overwhelming, and more approachable and inspirational for all of us. My son asked questions about the designs, created ideas in his mind, and was able to see art as a process, from concept to design to completion, which, for a child, can put art into a much more achievable and tangible realm.  

Then, after exploring the exhibit, we had the chance to make our own creations! The clear signs and helpful staff guided us easily to the design area. And I have to say, this was my favorite part of the event.  We were provided supplies to draw an environment of our choosing: the beach, the ocean, outer space, etc. Once that was completed, we built a bike to fit that environment. 

Here’s the thing… the building part… it’s amazing! You know when you want to do a project with your kids… and the glue bottles are clogged, you run out of paint, the clay dries too quickly… or you just don’t have the energy to even start to think of an activity? Or worse, you pull out all the materials, have everything set, and it turns out to be a complete flop? Well, not here. The supplies are endless. The quality of the supplies is top notch. The staff is helpful and enthusiastic. There’s even enough supplies for the parents to create… which, if i’m being completely honest, is awesome! Give a look around the room, and you’ll see parents and children creating, side by side… collaborating, sharing ideas, laughing, focusing… it’s absolutely beautiful.

I was able to support my son with his creation while my daughter gave me ideas and directions for her design. The supplies consisted of all different sized cardboard wheels, tape, hot glue guns (for adult use only), markers, thin sheets of cardboard, dowels of all sizes… they really thought of everything to make the ideas come to life. And, in addition to the staff that was ready to help at any point, artist Dice Yamaguchi was there walking around, giving support & inspiration to anyone who needed it.

Here are our finished products:

I love the way that this program lets us first see and explore the art, and then make such a strong connection to it through a hands on, engaging project. It helps us relate to the art that we’re seeing, making it more impactful, and more personal. My kids walk away from this not as typically passive observers, but as active, multi-sensory creators, causing a shift in their understanding of the art they saw and the process of creating art in general. In addition to that, I can see how excited they are and proud of their creations!  

And when we were done with our projects, there was even more fun to be had.

The exhibit continued outside in the courtyard, with the Heatherwick Studio interactive pieces of art. We had just seen pictures of these chairs in the gallery earlier, so the kids immediately connected the two, once again allowing them to understand the process of art from concept to completion. They jumped on, and spun away.

Thanks, Hammer Museum, for providing such an enriching, engaging, and exciting event! We can’t wait to come back!