A walk through the halls of the National Portrait Gallery reveals hundreds of faces: entertainers, presidents, athletes and historical figures. As cool as it is to see Michael Jackson or Mia Hamm staring at you, the experience can become overwhelming. You might need a space to hang out with other kids and get a different perspective on portrait art.
As of Saturday, the Portrait Gallery has a spot for you. A long-term exhibit called “Explore! With the National Portrait Gallery” will open on the museum’s first floor.
“We really wanted to do something for a young audience,” said Rebecca Kasemeyer, the museum’s associate director of education and visitor experience.
The plum-colored room has engaging activities, most of which allow kids to become portrait artists.
Visitors can sit on stools and have their silhouette projected onto a light table. A friend or sibling can then trace the silhouette, which may prove tricky if the subject won’t sit still.
“It starts to get at the idea of the choices artists make,” Kasemeyer said of the activity.
The silhouette artist can either take their artwork home or include it in a collection on the wall.
A station called “Strike a Pose” has kids record a five-second video of themselves, which is then projected onto a wall as part of a large grid. The video travels along the grid as more visitors record their own five seconds. It’s like 15 minutes of fame condensed into 100 seconds.
The hands-on activities also include a felt and magnetic board, photo blocks, and a reading nook with books about people in the collection.
The exhibit is a collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery and Explore! Children’s Museum, a learning-through-play space set to open in 2019 in the Fort Totten neighborhood of Northeast Washington.
The exhibit took about a year to plan and is a testing ground for the new museum, said Rhonda Buckley-Bishop, president of Explore.
“It gives us some feedback of what parents and kids like,” Buckley-Bishop said.
The Explore museum aims to engage kids with science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, she said.
But at the Portrait Gallery, the idea is to help kids better understand and appreciate other parts of the museum, Kasemeyer said.
“We hope that when you leave here, you will look at our portraits differently.”
What: “Explore! With the National Portrait Gallery” exhibit.
Where: Eighth and F streets NW, Washington. First floor.
When: Saturday through January 2018. Tuesday-Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
How much: Free.
How old: 18 months to 8 years. Some elements would appeal to older children. Kids must be with an adult at all times.
For more information: A parent can call 202-633-8300 or visit npg.si.edu .