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.

Advertisements

5 Essential family arts activities for January

This festive season was absolutely jam-packed with things to see and do, and having had so many hands on deck to get out and about, the New Year can feel like a bit of a let down. But fear not. This January is an exceptional time in the arts, with so much on offer for parents and carers with younger children. Here are my top picks for the month ahead:

1. Lumiere London
Having got the kids used to so many late nights over Christmas, leading creative company Artichoke (working in partnership with the Mayor of London) are just about to give us a very good reason to keep them up late once again! For 4 days (well, nights) this January, some of London’s best known locations and most iconic architecture will be transformed by 3D projections, interactive installations and a host of extraordinary light works as part of Lumiere London. Visitors are invited to walk the dazzling night time gallery on foot, using their map to navigate the concentration of work in and around the West End and Kings Cross. The entire programme looks awe-inspiring but specific highlights for families look set to be Neon Dogs, Circus of Light and the life-like elephant Elephantastic, which will emerge from a cloud of dust before making a slow journey into Central London to the sounds of the jungle.
Lumiere London, Various locations, 14th – 17th January, 6.30pm-10.30pm, admission free

2. London International Mime Festival
Aside from aspects of theatre that we have seen at The Unicorn, The Polka and The Albany, my visit to Hackney Children’s Theatre last year was one of the first times I have ever seen the more traditional art of mime tailored to a family audience, and it went down a storm. The kids were mesmerised whilst proud parents looked on, realising how unnecessary it was for them to narrate every turn of events. With this in mind, I really hope that future incarnations of this festival bring a bit more for younger viewers, but for those keen to explore the art of mime with little ones, there are a couple of highlights on offer. Kite at the Soho Theatre (Age guidance 7+) tells a poignant story of freedom and the joy of play, whilst the Barbican is offering a rare opportunity to enjoy vintage Charlie Chaplain in a weekend of classic circus films (certificate U)
London International Mime Festival, Various venues, 9th January to 6th February, purchase tickets via the event website

3. Mini Vault Festival
Having visited many times in the past for productions by theatre companies such as Punchdrunk, as well as the incredible Adventures in Wonderland last summer, The Vaults is fast becoming London’s premiere venue for immersive and interactive theatre. It therefore seems fitting that this curious maze of tunnels under Waterloo Station should play host to a family-friendly spectacular of underground shows and events to compliment their grown up festival which starts this month. Promising circus, puppetry, live music and even comedy sets suitable for younger ears, Mini Vault goes a long way to prove that this top-secret location isn’t just the domain of big kids.
Mini Vault Festival, Leake Street, SE1 7NN, 30th & 31st January, 13th & 14th February and 27th & 28th February, admission free (although some workshops and specific events have admission charges).

4. Southbank Centre: Winter Festival
Proving it really is for Winter and not just for Christmas, even after Slava’s Snow Show has packed up and gone home, the Southbank Centre’s popular Winter Festival is still going strong. Head to Bump Roller-Disco under Hungerford Bridge, for a less chilly alternative to ice skating. Promising dazzling lights and a pumping sound system from 11am to 11pm every day, it’s a fun way to eek out the last of the festive season (skates start at child’s size 9 through to adults size 14). Whilst you’re there, remaining conveniently located in Hungerford Car Park is also the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge where you can enjoy winter drinks (of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety) and Scandinavian street food in a cosy pop-up bar resembling a quintessential Scandinavian house. Aside from the festival, there’s usual draw of the Clore Ballroom as well as Gamelan workshops for pre-schoolers (Dragon Babies, Monday 11am) and some fantastic free lunchtime music with Friday’s Lunch and Tonic.
Southbank Centre Winter Festival, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX, until 17th January, admission free (although some activities and events have admission charges).

5. Tickets for Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt are available again!
January is definitely a time to give thanks that the wonderful interactive exhibitions at Discover Story Centre don’t just run for half term but for half of the year! After a sell out run over the Christmas holidays, tickets are now available again for Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things at Discover Story Centre, and it is proving one not to miss! Younger visitors have the chance to go in search of the bear, to stumble and trip in the dark forest or swishy swash in the long wavy grass, whilst older visitors can embark on a fun fact-finding mission and create their own ‘Rosen-inspired’ poems to take away. Read more about our visit at the end of last year.
Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things, Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, London E15 4QZ until 10th April, admission £5 per visitor plus free day admission with £1 admin fee (under 2s free).
Note that the exhibition is only open Tuesday to Friday, 3pm-5pm in term time, but returns to daily pre-bookable all-day sessions come school holiday time (i.e. February half term).

9 family-friendly arts activities for this summer

If you’re looking for something different to do over the school holidays or struggling to find ways to occupy toddlers now that the playgroups are on summer lock-down, fear not! You haven’t already missed out on booking those one-off sought-after events and you don’t have to spend a fortune on big-ticket activities. Arts Aloud has a host of arts-based family fun that you can’t afford to miss!

1. All aboard the Floating Cinema Various London locations (including Regents Canal near Broadway Market E8 and Canalside Steps near Kings Cross, various times, admission £TBC, 20th Aug-20th Sept)
As well as a chance to venture off to some of London’s hidden canals and waterways, this is far more than a chance to watch a few films on a barge. UP Project’s award winning architectural structure returns to London this summer bringing a programme of film screenings, participatory events, workshops and talks, many of which are suitable for visiting families. This year’s theme, curated in partnership with artist / film-maker duo Somewhere (Nina Pope & Karen Guthrie) is a journey beyond earth and into space, and is set to include an immersive space odyssey, open air screenings of sci-fi cult classics and a summer space school. Sign up to the mailing list to hear full details of the programme when it launches.

2. Banish a rainy day in London’s artiest soft play Abbey Leisure Centre, Barking, Mon-Wed & Fri 10am-7pm, Thurs 10am-6pm, Sat & Sun 9am-6.30pm, admission for £1.50 for under 1’s, £4.50 under 3’s, £5.50 3-12 yrs. Age & height restrictions apply to some areas. Check website for details
Everything about this soft play is extraordinary, including it’s Barking location. Flying in the face of conventional multi-coloured soft play, The Idol’s monochrome appearance was the brainchild of Turner Prize-nominated artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and took inspiration from a Neolithic figure discovered in the borough in 1922. Kids can climb the two-storey-high climbing frame, venture into the mythical creature’s head and look out of its two giant eyes, before heading down a giant slide.

3. Explore poetry written just for kids in a secret corner of the Southbank Centre The Saison Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, Tues-Sun 11am-8pm, admission free
Believe it or not, during the school holidays you can still find a cosy quiet corner of the Southbank Centre. Take the marvellous JCB singing lift to the 5th floor and while away the day exploring some of the 200,000 items making up Britain’s most comprehensive collection of poetry, including a dedicated children’s section. Read your favourite poems and discover new ones, plus listen to poets perform on CDs and DVDs. Kids can even try their hand at writing their own using rhyming dictionaries. Plus for the very young there’s Rug Rhymes (24th Jul 10.30-11am, 25th July 11-11.30am, foyer spaces).

4. Listen to the sound of a masterpiece at Soundscapes The National Gallery, daily 10am-6pm, until 6th Sept, admission free for children under 12, adults £10, concessions available
If you’re intimated by by taking the kids into the silence of a gallery space, then worry not! Here’s one exhibition where they’ll be drowned out by the soundtrack. Soundscapes exhibition commissioned musicians and sound artists, from classical composers to club DJs, to select a painting from the collection and compose piece of music in response. The result is an immersive experience that allows you to ‘hear’ the paintings as well as see them.

5. Lose yourself in the Serpentine Pavilion Next to the Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, daily 10am-6pm until 18th Oct, admission free
Explore the secret corridors and pathways of this colourful cocoon by Madrid-based architects SelgasCano, and reward yourselves with a knickerbocker glory when you reach the middle. Read up on my most recent visit.

6. See the best in free street theatre on the National Theatre’s River Stage National Theatre, South Bank, various times, 24th Jul-30th Aug, River Stage admission free, fees apply to NT workshops
If you’re struggling to find theatrical delights to entertain kids of various ages, you’ll love the drop-in nature of this summer’s brand new River Stage. Playing to the strengths of its South Bank location, the recently created Riverside Square will be showcasing a host of free public performances at family-friendly times, including street theatre, live music, circus and dance. There’s also a programme of hands-on workshops for families and children to discover the skills and secrets behind productions in the Clore Learning Centre.

7. Discover playground design from the post-war era at the Brutalist Playground RIBA, 66 Portland Place, Mon-Sun 10am-5pm, Tues 10am-8pm, until 16th Aug, admission free
In contrast to today’s risk-averse playground surfaces, this part-sculpture, part architectural installation harks back to an era of post-war design which prioritised creating areas of play space for children within social housing, through making the best of the ruins of wartime devastation. Commissioned by Turner Prize nominees Assemble and artist Simon Terrill, this revival of now-lost Brutalist landscapes is a softer-squidgier version, recreated using foam-blocks to protect your little cherubs should they fall.

8. Take a baby-friendly gallery tour at the National Maritime Museum National Maritime Museum, Sammy Ofer Wing Foyer, 5th Aug, 11am, parents & carers with children under 1 year, admission free, booking recommended
Finally another London arts institution inviting parents and carers with very young babies into their gallery space, to enjoy a talk with a squawk! Step forward the National Maritime Museum’s Curator of Art, Dr Melanie Vandenbrouck, who will lead you on a tour of art highlights around the site, including Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle. If you need to divide and conquer, older kids (6-12 years) can join Punchdrunk’s immersive theatrical journey through the museum’s incredible maritime history, by joining the crew of HMS Adventure in Against Captain’s Orders (Daily until 31st Aug, admission £19.50, booking advised).

9. Follow the bear around an arts trail with a difference Pick up a free Pawprint Trail map from the Paddington Shop, Paddington Station, Mon-Fri 7.30am-7.30pm, Sat & Sun 9am-7pm
Last summer was awash with arts trails, from buses to bears. For those still crying into their marmalade sandwiches, lamenting the loss of Paddington from the streets, cry-not! Instead, seek out some familiar faces from last summer on the brand new Pawprint Trail. There’s 4 uniquely decorated Paddingtons to spot, as well as a Water Maze, unusual mechanical bridges and a Puppet Theatre Barge, all housed in this hugely underrated area of West London. Grab a map from the Paddington Shop in Paddington Station, where you can also buy a furry friend to take on your way. Read more in Londonist.

Would families give Edinburgh Fringe a rave review?

The Journey: Interactive installation on Grassmarket

The Journey: Interactive installation on Grassmarket

I’ve just returned from the opening weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe, but contrary to my Arts Aloud mission, I actually decided this year to go child-free. Aside from it being a fantastic opportunity for myself and my husband to spend some well-earned time alone, we did also have it in mind that it might be worth scoping it out for a possible return next year with the kids in tow.

As the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe promises an ‘open-access festival’, a festival that contains something for absolutely everyone, fuelled by the creativity of the many individuals who have poured their passion into their work, and brought it to the city to share with the millions of people who attend each year.

As we leapt from venue to venue, mixing up superb theatre with live music, unusual dance and movement with close-to-the-bone comedy, we realised that above all else, it certainly wouldn’t be possible to embrace the fringe with the same intensity that we had been doing. With two children under 5, it’s unlikely that we would want to fill the day with more than one or two ‘appointments to see’, but volume aside, I wondered, could we still ‘experience’ the Fringe in the same way, if the children had come along with us?

This year’s Fringe boasts well over 100 shows that are specifically for children, whether re-telling of family favourites or original work. In addition, the rest of the schedule is well sign-posted with icons comparable to film classifications, designed to indicate audience suitability, and providing parents with enough information for them to decide whether to expose their children to some of the more grown-up aspects of the Fringe. Although we thought that this was a great idea, we did have some reservations about how you can enforce the recommended ratings, particularly with regard to some of the more improvised aspects of comedy and theatre. It is also worth considering the very real lack of access to some of the venues involved; particularly in the Old Town with its narrow passageways and steep winding staircases, typical of the buildings that populate Edinburgh’s historic centre.

In spite of this, I was given several reminders that one of the most attractive things about the Fringe for families, is that it exists far beyond the pages of the directory listings and the seated shows. It’s live on the streets of Edinburgh, in every corner of the city that you visit, providing hundreds of alternative activities that bring the festival to life and create some welcome opportunities to take a break from the schedule and to kick-back and relax.

Courtesy of a range of brand sponsors, St. Andrew’s Square Gardens, is one of many of the city squares that have been transformed into a relaxed social space; awash with deck chairs and food stalls, live (but unimposing) music and even table football and ping-pong. For those who prefer to keep moving, the West End Fair was a really interesting space for a stroll, featuring hundreds of makers, artists and designers exhibiting their latest creations, and the Fringe Schools Poster Exhibition at the Museum of Childhood was a great way to inspire enthusiastic scribblers through the work of other young artists.

At Grassmarket, a historic marketplace just a stone’s throw from a whole host of Fringe venues, we chanced upon a really exciting piece of interactive installation by Diana Bell, with Daniel Balanescu and Helen Edwards. The Journey asks passers-by to share something about their life, where they come from or where they were going by picking up a small wooden house, and adding it to the installation, wherever they felt it should feature. Older children were really enjoying sharing stories of their home-towns, whilst the younger ones loved walking in and out of this imaginary village that was emerging from the pavement, moving houses around and making it their own.

In addition, even the Festival stalwart The Pleasance decided to get in on the family friendly act this year by adding a ‘kidzone’ to their already popular courtyard. And all of this before you even consider that Edinburgh is a world-class city, and like any world-class city, it is home to an abundance of year-round sights and activities suitable for families.

Where better to start than Edinburgh’s imposing Castle, which can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city, and is a gift to the imagination of every young visitor. Leading down from the castle, at any time of year, it would be impossible to walk the cobbles of the Royal Mile without stopping to watch a busker, an acrobat or a magician, in the same way not a single visitor could pass the adorable and infamous Greyfriars Bobby, without stopping to rub his now gold and shiny nose! Add in Edinburgh Zoo, the Botanic Gardens and the hundreds of museums and galleries where kids can get hands on, and you should have exhausted children, happy parents and a good night sleep for all! And yes, it might be more difficult to do too much in the evening, but like us, it might be worth considering teaming up with friends and taking it in turns to continue the fun late into the night.

All things considered, I would say our plans to return to the Edinburgh Fringe with the children are firmly hatched, and I look forward to hearing from anybody who might have already put my plan for next year into action.

In the meantime, on the 16th August the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society and Starcatchers, are hosting ‘Breaking Down Barriers’, a conversation to explore why early years arts are important and consider how they can make the Fringe more accessible for babies, toddlers and their adults. Sadly, I will not be in Edinburgh for this event, but I urge anyone who might be in Edinburgh at this time, with or without their children to go along, join the debate and share some of the outcomes with me. I am in contact with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society and hope to be able to publish the minutes from this meeting here on Arts Aloud.

Until then, my self-indulgent top 3 from the Fringe this year are as follows:
1) Shame – Highly original production of spoken word, contemporary dance and hip-hop theatre exploring some of the shameful aspects and experiences of the creator’s life.
2) #MeetandTweet – Heart-warming story of Twitter’s influence on people and friendship, and a social experiment that turned into a global phenomenon.
3) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – If like me you found the film a little too weird and intense, then you will love this fantastic re-telling of a journey to the heart of the American Dream.

The Edinburgh Fringe runs from the 1st – 25th August.

Twist and shout in the Tunnel of Love #southbankforlove

So with the hottest day of the year forecast, feeling brave (or crazy?) I decided to head to the South Bank with the kids to check out the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love. For as long as I can remember, the Southbank Centre’s summer festival has always had plenty on for the kids; and this year is no different, with the fantastic addition of Sliding Gate by Sean Griffiths, six huge playground slides installed on Festival Terrace to symbolise family love and the ups and downs of family life.

The ever-reliable city beach was also in full effect (although lacking in buckets and spades!), as was the hilarious Appearing Rooms by Jeppe Hein, a popular installation-cum-water park, which left me smug at having packed a spare set of clothes after getting caught out last year for thinking that it looked very dry inside the rooms!

Having picnicked in Jubilee Gardens, we decided to escape the heat and have a nose inside the Tunnel of Love, housed in the Spirit Level of the Royal Festival Hall. Don’t be put off by the very x-rated looking exterior. It’s actually just a very playful and interactive installation piece by Heart n Soul, a leading creative arts company.

Today was the perfect day to explore this space as it was almost empty, with most of its planned activity taking place in the evening in the form of gigs, club nights and talks. Aside from the initial hall of fame walkway which features images of anyone and everyone from Jason Donovan to Prince Harry (to which my daughter said ‘mummy, who are all these people?!’), the highlight for me was the giant Twister mat.

It didn’t take too long to convince a 3 year old that clambering around on your hands and knees at the orders of an automated spinning board was a fun way to spend 15 minutes, it soon however descended into confusion, followed by an argument around who was or wasn’t cheating, mainly due to the issue that my only opponent still doesn’t quite know her left from her right! Thankfully, we had less of an audience than any game of Twister I have ever played. Don’t miss it. Just try to rope in more players.

Festival of Love runs until the 31st August.