The New Barnes Foundation
by Min Derry2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia, PA 19130 visit site>
I have to admit that up until the Barnes moved to its new location at the Ben Franklin Parkway, a visit to its old mansion was not at the top of my kids’ activity list. That’s because the original Mansion, in all of its glory and splendor, was not really suited for my lovely, verbal-social-tactile-kinesthetically tempered 3 year old as far as the nature and layout of the building and the limited family oriented activities previously offered. In fact, she would probably have enjoyed running around the arboretum grounds instead!
In May 2012; however, the Barnes reopened with a complete makeover in its impressive contemporary-modernistic and minimalist building, and it’s not afraid of showing it off nestled at the heart of the Ben Franklin Parkway. It has become an in your face artistic force to be contended with in the Philadelphia Museum area; with sleeves rolled up and indicator finger beckoning you to approach and dare to be dazzled by the entire menu of family and children’s programs that it now offers (http://www.barnesfoundation.org/education/families).
My 3 year old, 6 month old and I decided to try their ARTime Storytime first. With some trepidation, because while my 3 year old has no problems sitting on my lap for well over an hour in the comfort and privacy of our home – devouring book after book – sitting quietly and still on the floor of a public library or bookstore for read aloud storytime has proven to be challenge. She has the energy to turn a simple unsuspecting group of toddlers into a ring-around-the-roses sing along while spinning the kind reader dizzily at the center of the circle in no more than a few minutes! But hey, this is The Barnes Foundation, in a spectacular building, and what better way to infuse my love of the arts with my children’s literary and art enrichment than with storytime at the Barnes?
The Barnes is triangulated by the Ben Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia Public Library (Main Branch) and Whole Foods (think multi-tasking snack/meal and/or grocery shopping). You can find street parking if you leave yourself enough time, or limited spaces in their own parking lot (across from Whole Foods). Parking costs $15 on their site, but it’s validated for 4 hours. The building and campus alone are worth a trip in order to experience the architecture, but once you arrive with your little ones in tote, the “passageway” experience into the kids’ program room in the basement can be a little daunting for toddlers. Through the eyes of a 3 year old, the atmosphere could appear impressive at best, but possibly stoic, dim and intimidating. The crowd is the usual “kinda” lost traveling visitors and the membership “regulars.” Either way, art connoisseurs at the Barnes can be a more experienced and worldly crowd, which to our delight, often tend to embrace children, so there were enough oohs, ahhs, and giggles to encourage us along as we descended in the spacious elevator down to our designated room situated across from the gift shop.
Once I parked the stroller in front of the room and reached for the door handle, it was magically opened and we were greeted by an eager and friendly staff member identifiable by their uniform yellow t-shirt and blue apron. In fact, there were 3 staff members to a total of 5 children and their caregivers. I must say that the highlight of our experience was the friendliness, helpfulness and sensitivity of the staff! They were constantly cuing and reminding each other to help my toddler with her activity since I had an infant on the Bjorn; to help hold our art piece up, or roll it up and stand it in the corner of my stroller for exit – they even mentioned that another mother had nursed her infant during the program – needless to say, they were extremely child AND caretaker friendly, which don’t always go hand-in-hand as they should in other kids’ programs. They reminded me of the perfect mother’s helper, grandparent, parent-in-law or god-parent.
As soon as we entered the room, I was relieved by how spacious, clean and bright it was! They were also playing classical music in the background, while a flat screen TV adhered to the wall flipped through a slide show of famous paintings and their artists. First, they read a narrative book about a father who painted for and with his children. Then, we had a follow-up art activity, which involved rolling out huge pieces of paper on the floor, letting the children make “snow angels” on them, and then tracing their bodies on the paper, so they could in turn color themselves in. They even help us trace my 6 month old so that his older sister could color his “snow angel” as well. Finally, we held our art work up and paraded in a circle to the sound of a sing along. All of this in 30 minutes and not a second behind or late (they will politely “help you leave,” which translates to: 1) don’t plan a playdate if you need time to linger and explore at your own pace; 2) if you’re traveling a distance to make it to any of their short children’s events, you may want to include a museum tour with Admission or some of the other kid resources in the adjacent museum circles, e.g. Franklin Institute, etc., in order to make it worth your travel time)! The fact that the 2 (ARTime Storytime and ARTime Pajama Tourtime) age appropriate programs for my 3 year old are both exactly and only 30 minutes is perfect for our enclosed-space art and read-aloud related attention span!
There was a handicap accessible stall with changing table in the bathroom, but it was not large enough to fit a stroller, which had to sit outside the stall in a narrow corridor, so I had to hope for others’ understanding. Finally, I didn’t notice any clearly visible signs indicating which way to go in order to attend the family programs, which required me to ask at the front desk and/or security guard. While they designed the building with the intention of making it accessible to all ages, they clearly did not do a dry run through the eyes of a Mother pushing a stroller and guiding a toddler through a crowd! Other than that, I had no other inconveniences.
I would definitely attend their story time again and will plan to experience some of their other children and family programs as well!
Here are their family/children’s programs in a nutshell (click here for more details):
For the whole family:
- Monthly ARTSee Drop in Programs (Various dates and times; Free)
For ages 3-5:
- ARTime Storytime (Thursdays, 10:30-11:00 am; Free; Reservations Required)
- ARTime Pajama Tourtime (Various dates, 6:00-6:30 pm; Free with Admission; Reservations Required)
For kids 6-12:
- ARTkids @ The Movies (1st Wednesdays, 4:00-6:00 pm; Free; Reservations Required)
- “Riddle of the Room” Family Audio Tour downloadable to your own device or rentable on-site ($5 or Free for Members).
- “Riddle of the Room” ARTSee Gallery Kit (Free with Admission)
Big Thanks to NJ Mom Min Derry for this review!