School’s Out: 6 arts activities here for the whole summer

Can you believe we’re a week into the school holidays already? If like us, you’re suffering a severe lack of forward planning and the dates of your desired fun aren’t quite matching up, here’s 6 arts activities that you can enjoy pretty much anytime over the next few weeks and beyond. Perfect for odd days, dog days and down days…

Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love

Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
Until 29th August 2016
Admission Free (Fees apply to specific shows)
Aside from ticketed family shows on offer such as Air Play or nearby London Wonderground’s Jungle Book, there are still plenty of free activities for the drop-in visitor to enjoy. This year Jeppe Hein (creator of the magnificent water installation Appearing Rooms) has devised some artistic reinventions of the park bench. In the spirit of the festival, Modified Social Benches challenges the amount of space that people feel necessary to set between themselves and others when sitting and aims to make the art of sitting a more cosy (or conscious) exercise. As well as his glorious fountains, these unusual benches will be on-site for the whole of the summer, along with the ever-popular riverfront beach and of course the opportunity for little ones to marvel at the world-famous skatepark and spectacular street art that skirts this, one of London’s finest promenades.

Edinburgh Fringe 
Various venues across Edinburgh
5th August to 29th August 2016
See website for details of admission fees
It’s little more than a week to go until the largest arts festival in the world takes over the Scottish capital and this year’s family programme seems bigger, broader and better than ever. But just because you don’t live in Edinburgh or have plans to travel up for the festival, it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all that’s on offer. Famed for being a test-bed for new artistic talent, so many of the fantastic shows featuring as part of the programme can be found touring the rest of the UK – either before or after their Edinburgh stint. Check in with your local theatre to see what’s new in August and beyond. Due in London from the end of August, Upswing’s Bedtime Stories, for example, is sure to be one of Edinburgh’s best summer exports!


The BFG Dream Jars Trail 

Various locations across London 
Until 31st August 2016
Admission Free
It wouldn’t be summer without a charity art trail now would it? We never tire of these trails as a fantastic way to explore London, entertain the kids and raise awareness of some very worthy charities. This summer, as Steven Spielberg’s magnificent cinematic production graces our screens, an accompanying Dream Jar Trail is taking over the city – bringing to life the dream stories of well-known celebrities and artists, through the ‘splendiferous’ sculptures contained in every one of the 50 jars. There are 4 different trails to follow, taking in some of the most interesting areas of town and at the end of the summer the jars will be auctioned off to raise money for Save the Children, as well as Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity.

Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses
Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA
Until 9th October 2016
Admission Free
The annual Serpentine Pavilion arrived in Kensington Gardens last month, this year featuring four magnificent Summer House friends. This year’s commissions contain the work of architects who have yet to build a permanent building here in the UK and visitors can enjoy their unusual offer of shade for the entire summer holiday and long into the autumn. Find out more about our recent visit. The galleries are also hosting a family weekend on 20th August.

The Playground Project
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, South Shore Road, Gateshead NE8 3BA
Until 30th October 2016
Admission Free
Like most of the UK’s major arts institutions, Baltic is continuing its regular family programme over the holidays but this summer’s must-see exhibition steps outside the comfort zone of these controlled activities. Celebrating a bygone era of children’s playgrounds which until the 1980’s provided an opportunity to explore away from watchful eyes, the centrepiece of The Playground Project is the now (almost) defunked Lozziwurm. Designed in the 1970s by Swiss sculptor Yvan Pestalozzi, this tangle of pipes reinstates the freedoms originally intended by architects and urban designers before an army of risk averse authorities took over, and by doing so poses some serious questions about how far today’s health and safety precautions are stifling our children’s ability to take risks.

London Bridge City Summer Festival 
More London Riverside complex between London Bridge & Tower Bridge
Until 31st October 2016
Admission Free
It might have started under the damp squib of June’s relentless rain, but this free festival is back this year bigger and longer than before. Aside from the grown up activities of an evening, there are plenty of public participation activities such as Massaoke – the live band singalong sensation, a Jitter-Bug competition and a plethora of live new music to enjoy, especially during the Rio Olympics in August. Running concurrently is Revealed 2016, a summer-long series of art installations across the area, which launches with free performances, workshops and music in Potters Fields Park. Don’t miss the family day on Saturday 30th July which includes a host of circus performances and craft activities.

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Serpentine’s playful Summer Houses shed new light on old classics

Last summer we couldn’t wait to tell all of our friends about our adventures getting lost in the secret corridors and kaleidoscope colour of the 2015 Serpentine Pavilion. This year, i’ve had to contain my excitement since February’s announcement that the annual summer Pavilion commission for 2016 would be joined by an additional four Summer Houses, each designed by architects who’ve yet to build a permanent building here in England.

The focal point of this year’s additions was clear; each of the 25 sq m Summer Houses should be inspired by the nearby Queen Caroline’s Temple, a classical style summer house built in 1734, now taking up an enviable position a stone’s throw from the Serpentine Gallery itself. Sadly this hasn’t prevented us from repeatedly ignoring it as we’ve passed by over the years. This visit was, however to be a very different beast, and with one curious 3 year old and 4 new lively architectural companions, this beauty soon became the unintentional star of the show.

Stood stark against the backdrop of leafy Kensington Gardens, with a shape as striking as the of the Serpentine spire, the Pavilion itself seemed the most appropriate place to start our visit. As a space that is intended for use by everyone, in whichever way they choose to interact with it, I absolutely love everything that this project stands for and this year’s creation by Danish architectural practice Bjarke Ingels Group was no exception. Although on the surface the structure doesn’t appear to have the same abundance of light and space as last year’s effort, as we moved through the walls of stacked fibreglass frames, they began to open out, eventually revealing the magnificent grass and sky of the gardens beyond. Sadly my little companion didn’t stick around for the big reveal, instead making it her mission to fit herself inside one of the fibreglass ‘bricks’ which doubled up as Pavilion seating.

We picnicked on the grass behind the Serpentine Gallery, shielding our feast from any unrestrained dogs, before following the path towards the site of the new Summer House commissions. We first found shade in the peaceful rooms of Barkow Leibinger’s looping plywood and timber creation, in which only the front facing room can really compete with the views of the (now extinct) rotating Pavilion on which it was based.

From here I followed my young companion as she headed through the implied ‘doorway’ into Kunlé Adeyemi’s inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s Temple. She negotiated her way speedily towards the original, through the scattered elements of the new structure on which visitors can sit (not climb) and relax into the space around them. Once inside, it then became very difficult to prise her out. Every sound echoed loud, giving her a presence far greater than her tiny size and the multiple arches and whitewash walls had created a much cooler space to run and hide.

I walked on curious to explore Asif Khan’s enclosure of timber staves, offering a surprising amount of shade for it’s seemingly open structure. This house provided a magnificent space to see and be seen – a nice synergy with the original purpose of the gardens beyond. I took a deep breath as my little companion managed to catch up with me by squeezing herself in through the gap in the slats, despite the perfectly good entry and exit at either end. Clearly the appearance of a fellow small person cracking open their lunch proved too good to miss, yet despite originally being conceived as a tea house, we’re still not completely sure that the structure in the middle is a picnic table! We stayed inside for some time, enjoying the almost cosy feel of the space which looks as if it has risen from stones below.

Confused by how close we were allowed to get to neighbouring Yona Friedman’s geometric Summer House (or indeed how its movable arrangement would ever amount to shade) we decided to get on our way.

This year’s architectural project is most certainly a triumph, expanding the idea of spacial interaction beyond the Pavilion itself and transforming other parts of the gardens in a way that everyone can enjoy. Providing an abundance of shade, the project has not only allowed the visitor to think again about the contribution that a Summer House makes to an expanse of space, but by focusing these ‘modern takes’ on an old classic, the project has given something old and precious a brand new voice, reviving its status amongst a new generation of young visitors and creating an almost unintentional centrepiece.

Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses will be in Kensington Gardens until 9th October 2016
Open daily, 10am to 6pm
Admission free

Until 30th September, Serpentine are also inviting 8 to 11 year olds to design and build their own Pavilion online for a chance to win an iPad

Nearby: If all that shade leaves you longing for some sun, the Serpentine Gallery is a short walk from the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and the Serpentine Lido. Pack your swimmers, both are perfect for a paddle.

Colour me happy at the @SerpentineUK Pavilion 2015

Imagine if, instead of a cocoon that was drab and brown, Eric Carle had given us a sneak-preview of our friend The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a magnificent multi-coloured butterfly. Well this year’s 15th annual Serpentine Pavilion is a great indication of exactly what that might have looked like.

Approaching through a sea of greenery that is the beautiful Kensington Gardens, prepare to be hit by a wall of colour followed by a frisson of excitement at the prospect of losing yourselves in this brand new magical space.

Designed by Madrid based architects SelgasCano, this unusual polygon, made from panels of translucent, multi-coloured polymer, was inspired by the chaotic yet structured way that us Londoners move around our city. The result is a maze-like structure, with ‘secret corridors’ between its outer and inner layers, creating a fun, interactive and welcoming space for visitors of all ages.

Wherever you choose to enter or exit the Pavilion, each path walks you through a variety of colours and fractures of light before eventually leading you into the kaleidoscope interior. The process of walking in and out of the tunnels will feel strangely addictive, with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to rush back in as soon as you find yourself on the outside of the fun.

For visitors hoping to find an airy shade for little ones on a sunny day, you might be disappointed. On the day of my visit, the temperature was upwards of 25 degrees, creating a near greenhouse effect as layers trapped warm air inside rather than providing free-flow. That said, however, once you’re inside, you’re definitely in the best place, with Fortnum & Mason in residence serving cold drinks, ice cream scoops and even a Knickerbocker Glory, providing the perfect compliment to this colour therapy for keeping everyone happy.

As well as a playful public space by day, the Pavilion is a forum for learning, debate and entertainment by night, with Park Nights bringing together art, poetry, music, film and literature, every Friday between July and September.

With such a stunning setting, it’s easy to while away a day here with the kids, particularly if you are considering combining it with a visit to Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, Serpentine Lido or even the nearby Science Museum or Natural History Museum. Visit on Sunday 5th July and you’ll get the added treat of the gallery’s Family Day (12-5pm, admission free) promising free, artist-led events open to families with children of all ages.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is open daily 10am-6pm until 18th October 2015, admission free.

** NOTE The Pavilion is closed to the public on 2nd and 3rd July for private function**

Nearby: Walk 5 minutes over the bridge to neighbouring Serpentine Sackler Gallery, where kids will marvel at the work of artist Duane Hanson, who has created incredible life-like sculptures portraying working class Americans in everyday life. With meticulous details such as body hairs, veins and bruises, every figure makes you double take, particularly if your little ones are prone to giggling and staring at statue street performers for hours on end.