Arts-lovers guide to summer family fun

However much time you have to spend with the children over the school holidays, the arts is awash with some fantastic family friendly fun, with many events and activities happening all summer long. Here’s my arts-lovers guide to a summer of family fun!

S is for Shakespeare’s Globe

Celebrating literature and the art of storytelling, from 28-30 July the globe hosts everything from talks with Michael Morpurgo to interactive Shakespeare workshops. Advance booking highly recommended. See website for tickets and times.

U is for Udderbelly

Catch the last few gems of this family spectacular, which has been occupying the South Bank since April. The Australian acrobats staging Children Are Stinky (22-27 July) wowed the crowds at Edinburgh last year with their daredevil stunts, whilst Jungle Book (1-24 August) brings Rudyard Kipling’s well-known tale bang up to date, setting it in an urban jungle and packing it with street dance and circus.

M is for Museum Trips for Kids

Remember our recent trip to David Hockney with Imagine Art Club? Bringing artists and exhibitions to life in a way that so few galleries do, the enigmatic Aga returns with a host of visits planned to fill the dying days of the holidays. The sessions, which combine an informative exhibition tour with some practical art techniques, take in Matisse at the Royal Academy (29 & 30 August) and Fahrelnissa Zeid’s abstract art at Tate Modern (3 September).

M is for Mad Hatter!

Les Petits will be occupying the atmospheric tunnels of The Vaults almost every day of the summer holidays, with their immersive interpretation of C S Lewis’ classic, Adventures in Wonderland (until 3 September). If you’re looking for something more summery, Sixteenfeet Productions are presenting their own unique retelling in some of London’s loveliest green spaces, including Brockwell Park (22 July to 31 August), Morden Hall Park (4-7 August), Streatham Rookery (10-14 August) and Osterley Park (16-20 August). There’s also a chance to attend a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

E is for Eclectic

National Theatre’s free River Stage returns to the South Bank for almost the entire summer break this year, promising an eclectic mix of live theatre, DJs, family fun, dance, cinema, workshops and live music. Don’t miss the all-female performance troupe Figs in Wigs and their creative tribute to the 80s (29 July, 15.15) and The Jukeboxes (5 August, 12.00 and 14.45) who recreate classic pop videos using props, puppets and wigs. There’s also a beat-boxing vocal workshop with UK beatboxing champion Grace Savage (12 August, 14.00).

R is for Royal Academy

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition on behalf of Kids in Museums, and I was so impressed at the endless variety of work, from world-renowned artists such as Tracey Emin and Bob and Roberta Smith, to emerging artists and architects. We also loved the handy Art Detectives pack, free to family visitors in order for them to get the most out of the show. See website for details of tickets and opening times. Exhibition runs until 20 August. While you’re there, as part of exhibition Second Nature: The Art of Tunnicliffe, there’s also the RA’s first ever dedicated family corner with permanent activities, as well as a series of workshops and story-tellings.

O is for Outdoor Art

It should really be P is for Pavilion, as both the Serpentine and Dulwich Picture Gallery celebrate all that is great about art in the outdoors, showing off their spectacular summer pavilions. As well as a family day (22 July) Serpentine are hosting a programme of lunchtime talks, whilst every Wednesday in August, Dulwich Picture Gallery will be hosting drop-in art making sessions for families, inspired by their exhibition Sargent: The Watercolours, and the design of their first ever pavilion. If you love outdoor art, make sure you also don’t miss Frieze Sculpture 2017 (until 8 October). This first-ever summer display of sculpture in the English Gardens of Regents Park is absolutely free, and brings together 25 new works by leading 20th-century artists and contemporary artists from around the world.

F is for Festival

Nobody does festivals better than Southbank Centre and alongside the usual beach and water fountain fun, the Summertime festival extends this year’s theme of Nordic Matters with contemporary circus Cirkus Cirkör (13-16 August), the continuation of Adventures in Moominland (until 20 August) and a weekend celebrating Swedish feasting, craft and Nordic music (19-20 August).

F is for Framed Film Club

Framed Film Festival returns to Barbican later in the year but the Framed Film Club picks up again every Saturday in September with a programme specially curated by children’s films by author Jamila Gavin. Popular kids flick Ratatouille sneaks into the end of the summer holidays (2 September, 11am), but more exciting is The Adventures of Prince Achmed (9 September) with introduction from Ms Gavin herself, as well as a live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne. See website for tickets and age restrictions.

U is for Up

Well, Pop Up. As well as your last chance to catch the immersive exhibition The Fantastic World of Dr. Seuss (ends 3 September), this summer, Discover Story Centre will be staging 2 pop-up playgrounds. Illustrators and artists Pencil & Help will be hosting a Pop-Up Poetry Playground (5-20 August) where you can make a poem out of big bendy shapes and draw a poem to take home with you, then artist Kristi Minchin unveils her interactive Geometric Playground (21 August to 3 September) with cogs to turn, levers to pull and pendulums to swing. See website for opening times and details of day passes. Entry is free from 21 July to 14 August to those living or working in Newham.

N is for National Portrait Gallery

Inspired by the BP Portrait Award 2017, the gallery has planned a programme of free family workshops and activities (24 July to 4 August) including painting, drawing and a chance to learn more about judging a portrait competition. The jewel in the crown is the  special Playdoh Portraits session (20 August, 13.00 for 3+, 15.00  for 7+) with artist Eleanor Macnair, where visitors recreate a portrait from the gallery’s collection using nothing but play doh. Tickets are free and available one hour before the event.

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Finding more than fair-weather fun at Serpentine Pavilion

I’m usually first past the post to visit the annual Serpentine Pavilion. In fact, i’d go so far to say that I anticipate it.

Over the years I’ve seen more than a few internationally renowned artists take up the challenge of designing a 300 square metre structure to take pride of place alongside one of London’s most exciting contemporary art galleries. With the intention of creating a cafe-cum-social space by day, and an entertainment space by night, I’ve always enjoyed putting the resulting structure through its paces with a young companion in tow. So imagine my disappointment this morning, as we drew closer to Francis Kéré’s bold blue structure, and my 4 year old decided to drop the clanger “I’m not going in there”.

I’ve always relished having kids that were open to everything, but here I was, in front of what was intended to be one of Serpentine’s most inclusive pavilions, and she had bailed. What on earth was I to do? I knew you’d be relying on me. I knew I had to think quick.

The artist was particularly keen on ensuring visitors to the pavilion remain ‘in nature’ whilst they view it, which means there’s plenty of scope to circumnavigate the space, without really feeling like you’re “in”. This was helpful. I could at least talk her into a scoot around the outside, and with four separate entrances and free-standing perforated walls, i’d at least get a good peek inside.

The whole structure is inspired by the canopy of a tree and its role as the centre of community in the artist’s native Burkina Faso. The focal point of the community, the tree offers shade and shelter, but it is also a social space, a meeting place where everyone in the village can come together.

Three quarters of the way round and we struck gold, in the form of a mound of plywood which had been fashioned into what appeared like a slide. A simple accessory to the centrepiece was shaping up to be our main event. Grateful for being thrown a lifeline, I dashed inside to check the rules of engagement with front of house staff, and at the wishes of the artist, we were free to explore. She slid down its shiny surfaces. She reclined in the (not quite) sunshine. She circled it like a mountain, and jumped free from its summit. So much more than a slide, this humble addition successfully recreates the collective gathering of children under the tree, a virtual kindergarten, allowing us ‘villagers’ the time and space to look on, to talk and to share stories.

Now sold on the structure, we ventured inside to the sweet smell of coffee. The central courtyard which kept us connected to nature, was the next big draw and we both loved seeing and feeling the outdoors inside. The seating here is strictly for bottoms and don’t allow the same level of adventure, but the wind in our hair and the stones under foot soon had us lost in our own thoughts, as if we were on a distant beach. All we needed was to be free of the overcast skies above and the world would be perfect.

Keen to quit whilst ahead (and grateful to have turned a thumbs down into a thumbs up), we headed off, over the road to the Diana Memorial Fountain for a paddle.

As we moved away from the pavilion, I could finally appreciate the expanse of the funnel-like roof in all its glory, ready and waiting for the dark clouds above us to kick it into action. Bound to nature, this creation really comes to life when it rains and any water collected on the roof is channeled into a spectacular waterfall effect, before being evacuated through the floor for later use within the park. This surely makes this one of the most simple, yet useful, pavilions we have ever visited.

Whatever the weather, it goes without saying that Serpentine Pavilion should be high on your day out ‘hit list’ this summer. Free, family friendly and lots of fun, it’s a visual feast that neither a grumpy pre schooler nor the British summertime can spoil.

Serpentine Pavilion is open until 8th October 2017.
Admission Free, Open daily 10am to 6pm.

Inspired by Francis Kéré’s stories of gathering, debate and community the Pavilion will become host to a series of picnic talks this summer, every Wednesday at 1pm until 23rd August.

There is also a Family Day on 22nd July. See website for details