de Young at Heart

I admit it: I LOVE museums. I have a sense of wonder every time I walk into one, and (obviously) art museums are among my favorites. But sometimes my kids get a little bored or start to complain after an overdose of paintings and sculptures, so I was thrilled last month when the de Young was transformed into a magical wonderland where children and their families romped, danced, and experienced art in a whole new way. The de Youngsters: A Bigger Family Party, the inaugural celebration of the next generation of museum-goers and art patrons, brought children, parents, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco together for a night of pure joy.

Jugglers performing on top of Andy Goldsworthy's Drawn Stone in Diller Court

Photo courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

Guests, large and small, were greeted by a line of white-coated waiters balancing silver trays laden with juice boxes. Several food carts featured mini-dinner selections of kid-friendly foods like popcorn, hotdogs, and veggie snacks to please the more health-conscious moms. 

Waiters in white coats lined up offering trays laden with juice boxes

Photo courtesy Sarah Bailey Hogarty, FAMSF

As I wandered around waiting for my family to arrive, I stopped to watch a group of kids yukking it up with a very colorful clown from Gregangelo’s Velocity Circus. The clown was performing what I thought was a relatively standard set of magic tricks—but I was completely charmed (and quite honestly, shocked) by the sheer delight that played across the kids’ faces with every gag. It’s nice to see kids just being kids, especially in the museum.

A clown entertains a group of kids and parents

Photo courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

I was drawn deeper into the party by the glow of a giant “iPad.” Tiny hands silhouetted against the screen clicked and dragged swaths of color to create nature-inspired images that would have inspired David Hockney himself.

Two children reaching up are silouhetted against the colorful digital backdrop of a huge "iPad"

Photo courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

My family finally arrived hungry and excited to be free of the car! We sat down and stuffed our faces, the kids relishing mac & cheese, pizza, and pretzels. (And maybe even a carrot stick or two.)

Two young kids, a boy and a girl, eat pizza and mac & cheese on a turquoise table cloth

Photo courtesy Tom Hogarty

Just as we finished, a troupe of acrobats took the stage. My daughter, Harper, edged her way forward to get a better look, while my son Tiernan chose to enjoy the show from an elevated vantage point in Papa’s arms. And while juggling men in unitards may not have been my first choice of entertainment, the kids’ upturned faces beamed in utter amazement.

An acrobat is pictured in midair as he flips horizontally over four crouching children

Photo courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

At that point, some pretty incredible painted faces were walking around the museum—and if there’s one thing that Harper is obsessed with, it’s having her face painted. 

A little girl with curly hair shows off a shimmering blue facepainted mask that covers the entire top half of her face

Photo courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

We headed back into the café, which had been transformed into a chic art/food/craft studio, with marshmallow sculpture materials, a cookie decorating station, and an impressive towering chocolate fountain. 

After patiently waiting in line and actually sitting still (amazing!), my kids were transformed into a rainbow butterfly and a real, roaring dinosaur.

A boy with a dinosaur painted across his face and a girl with a rainbow butterfly pose arm in arm

Photo courtesy Tom Hogarty

Next up, we dived into making marshmallow sculptures. But we soon discovered that Tiernan was spending more time eating the materials than sculpting with them, so we moved on to the next activity. 

A little boy tries to put together two tooth picks using a marshmallow as the joint

Photo courtesy Tom Hogarty

We headed out to the Piazzoni Murals Room to create our own family flipbook. My daughter quickly caught on and began to dance and move around, but my son stood frozen, his goofy smile only emerging with the turn of every page. 

As the kids began to wind down, we meandered toward the side entrance where Harper was drawn into an art project. First, a teaching artist took three Polaroid pictures of her, then she showed Harper how to put them together to create a mini-joiner, exactly like David Hockney (well, maybe not exactly). The results, like the rest of the evening, were pretty cool.

A little girl is pictured as a composite of three polaroids illustrating the top, middle, and bottom portions of her body

Photo courtesy Sarah Bailey Hogarty

While Harper was sticking down the final edge of her mini-joiner, a final blast of awesome hit us when the DJ turned up the volume on Let it Go. If you’ve never heard this song (count yourself lucky—I’ve heard it about 10,000 times), it’s the showstopper from Frozen, and Harper’s all-time favorite song. She dropped everything and sprinted across Wilsey Court, hopped up on the stage and danced herself silly. It was a perfect end to a perfect night.

It’s hard to pinpoint what was so special about the evening—maybe it was the fact that every single aspect of the party was designed to delight and inspire the children, and ultimately their parents; or maybe it was just watching Harper and Tiernan take it all in and living vicariously through them. Whatever it was, we ALL found a new reason to love the museum, a result that mirrors the goal of the de Youngsters—to support family programming that will perpetuate this kind of feeling throughout the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

To learn more about the de Youngsters, please visit our website.