It’s a serene Sunday morning in San Francisco, and 6-year-old artists are quietly creating spaceships, astronauts and Mars rovers while the music of “2001: A Space Odyssey” plays on low volume in the background.
The children — many with their parents’ help — are doing art projects at the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s drop-in art studio that, this month, is connected to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit.
Every Sunday the CJM sets up a children’s art studio tied to a current museum exhibit or a Jewish holiday or ritual. The theme for this month is “Space Odyssey” because of the Kubrick exhibit that went up recently. (One of the late director’s most noted films is “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)
The studio is located on the lower level and museum attendees can drop in anytime throughout the day. It doesn’t cost anything for kids (the CJM is free for 18 and under), though adults will need to pay for a museum admission.
Some Sundays the art project is geared toward something in particular — such as making Mother’s Day cards out of photo transfers or creating rock ’n’ roll posters in conjunction with the recent Bill Graham exhibit — but often the CJM simply provides materials and lets the kids go to town. Organizers say the program most appeals to children ages 3-10.
“It’s really about an intergenerational family experience, and because it’s not close-ended, kids don’t feel like they need help to make this particular thing,” said Andrea Guskin, family programs manager.
Guskin said one challenge is that the studio is often perceived as a serious space, especially if a current CJM exhibit is more geared for adults. She emphasized, however, that regardless of what’s on display in the museum, the studio is always a family-friendly place that encourages children and parents alike to have fun creating art.
Howard Lee of Alameda was at the July 10 studio with his 6-year-old daughter, Chloe, as she created an astronaut out of aluminum foil and tape.
“It’s nice because here we’re sneaking in some culture and at this age they’re like a sponge and they absorb everything,” Lee said. “It’s nice for her to discover things on her own. It’s kind of like using Legos but not looking at the instructions and building on your own.”
The next major exhibit opening at the CJM will be “Negev Wheel: Ned Khan” on July 28. A noted environmental artist and sculptor, Kahn has created a slowly spinning, nearly 20-foot-wide sculpture that is filled with sand from the Negev Desert. Alongside will be a smaller sand sculpture that visitors, especially children, can set in motion themselves.
The CJM will help make the experience even more interactive for children by having an “Art Pushcart” in the gallery on most Sundays while the five-month exhibit is up. In August, visitors to the drop-in studio will be able to paint, pour and explore with sand.
Guskin said drop-in art studio organizers often try to use upcycled or recycled materials as well as incorporate materials that children wouldn’t normally be exposed to in art. Crayons and markers are out, she added.
For the High Holy Days in October, the studio will offer a beeswax project, and for the Festival of Lights in December, the studio’s Hanukkah-oriented theme will be “Studio of Light.”
Since the museum draws families of all religions and backgrounds, Guskin noted that even if themes are connected to a Jewish holiday or ritual, the projects can still be intriguing even if the participants aren’t knowledgeable about Judaism. “It’s really important to us that we don’t make assumptions as to what people know or don’t know, so we will offer bite-sized information for everyone about the Jewish holiday and leave it up to them to explore it more,” Guskin said.
The CJM’s success in attracting families from diverse backgrounds was highlighted in a recent case study by the Wallace Foundation. Titled “Converting Family Into Fans: How the Contemporary Jewish Museum Expanded its Reach,” the report noted that the CJM launched a series of new programs and local partnerships that resulted in a nearly nine-fold increase in family visitors over seven years, according to a CJM release.
New programs included family-oriented tours, special gallery hours for preschoolers, family activity packs and free admission days, in addition to the drop-in art studios and other programs. The CJM also created partnerships with local libraries, preschools and elementary schools that included workshops and special museum visits.
According to museum officials, more than 12,000 families visit the CJM each year, compared with 1,300 before it started its audience-building effort. Families have gone from 10 percent of all visitors to 15 percent or more, the museum noted.