Melbourne is spoilt for choice when it comes to creative adventures for families. The city is blessed with vibrant community arts hubs and dynamic museums and galleries, which offer installations and activities designed specifically for mini-creatives.
With so much choice, it’s hard to play favourites, so we sought the help of Melbourne’s Culture Mamas, who run a fabulous curated program of events for parents and small ones.
Here are their top picks for Melbourne art experiences that will inspire the whole family:
The excitement begins at the ‘water wall’ façade and wishing-well ponds at the entrance, before you move inside to the three levels of international art. In recent years, the NGV have made an extra effort to incorporate families into the design of their exhibitions and public programs, with everything from interactive installations and children’s trails to kids-only interpretative labels dotted throughout the permanent collection. If you need a breather, head outside to the sculpture garden and climbing frame, before returning to a different part of the gallery.
Until August 2014 the Children’s Gallery has been given over to the creative and absurdist talents of Melbourne-based Italian design duo, Mathery Studio. Kids are invited to upend themselves, draw with crayon embellished shoes, use cutlery to leave their marks on tables, and wear a crayon-clad helmet to let their heads do the drawing. Expect more surprising, eccentric and unusual exhibitions for kids in the future, too.
Street Art Tour
Melbourne has a well-deserved reputation as one of the street art capitals of the world. The city and suburban streets alike are lined with truly impressive and super colourful stencils, murals and paste-ups: just look up, down and all around and you will be amazed by the extraordinary talent lining them. While the CBD (Central Business District) is most recognised for its street art – with works from local and internationally-acclaimed artists adorning its manifold laneways – there’s a huge array of street art hiding in Melbourne’s suburbs as well.
To get started, take a walk from Federation Square and cross Swanston Street and make your way up the famous Hosier and Rutledge Lanes. Some other gems can be found here:
- Caledonian Lane, off Little Bourke Street
- Union Lane, off Bourke Street Mall
- Rear of 280 Queen Street in Finlay Avenue
- 1 Degraves Street
- Cnr Flinders Lane and Cocker Alley
- Centre Place, between Collins Street and Flinders Lane
Walk slowly and take in all of the little details, then pick a lane – any lane – and be your own guide.
Whether your little people are into art, crafts or music, there is sure to be a workshop, event or performance to get them excited at ArtPlay at Birrarung Marr Park, near the centre of town. Short, simple creative workshops for young children sit alongside more sophisticated experiences for older kids and parents. One day it might be collaborative book-making and light play, the next mass-singing with the Hip Hop Choir or getting busy in the ArtPlay Backyard. The predominately free activities are held from Wednesday to Sunday.
Kids can get hands-on with the moving image in all its forms, from film and television to the Internet and computer games, at this exhibition space and art-house cinema at Fed Square. The exhibitions at ACMI are a mixed but often stimulating bag, and might include a dizzying exploration of music videos or a look at the art of Disney fairy tales. The well-priced Kids’ Flicks program is guaranteed to delight nostalgia-seeking grown-ups (and the little ones too!) with classics like Never Ending Story, Wizard of Oz and Pee Wee Herman.
This sprawling property, once home to Australian art patrons John and Sunday Reed, is now a wonderful contemporary art gallery and historical art museum. From the 1930s to the 1980s the Reeds accrued a significant collection of works – mainly from their bohemian circle of artist friends – by some of the leading names of the modernist movement in Australia including Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester and John Perceval. Today you can explore the heritage-listed farmhouse, ‘Heide I,’ and the iconic modernist building ‘Heide II’, which both feature fantastic exhibitions drawn from the collection alongside more contemporary works.
Kids will love the sculpture park, which has over 30 incredible pieces sprinkled around the picturesque gardens that run down to the banks of the Yarra River. Grab a coffee or a lunchbox from the famed Café Vue (picnic hampers are available with 24hrs notice) and explore Sunday Reed’s kitchen garden. There are also hands-on school holiday activities and a monthly Heide Art Bubs program (0-5), which includes an exhibition tour for kids and an art-making workshop.
Situated among beautiful bushland and miles of landscaped gardens, the McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery is definitely worth the 40 minute drive down to Langwarrin on the Mornington Peninsula. Over 100 works by Australia’s leading sculptors are dotted around wide open spaces, bracken paths, ti-tree forests, heathlands and lakes. Children love running along the pathways through the native bush to discover new artworks at every twist and turn; if they’re really lucky they might even spot a turtle or a spiky enchidna! During school holidays there are some great programs in which kids can make their own sculptures and paintings inspired by artists featured at the park. Make a day of it and pack a picnic to enjoy in the grounds, or have lunch at the café on the lake. The Park is also close to the town of Mornington with its funky cafés, and Mt Martha with its lovely, gentle beach.
The enthralling State Library of Victoria, with its majestic dome, is another satisfying destination with the little ones. A welcoming retreat in the heart of the city, the Library offers a dedicated reading space where you can pull up a beanbag and discover your favourite children’s books. With more than 100,000 children’s books from Australia and overseas, there’s a lot to choose from; it’s also a dynamic way of showing your kids how childhood literature has changed over the years.
Like most public libraries in Melbourne, the State Library offers weekly story time sessions where 0 to 5 year olds can shake it out to stories, songs, rhymes and creative activities. But the State Library’s sessions sometimes have extra special guests, such as favourite Australian children’s author, Mem Fox.
A little further afield
If you have extra time on your hands, take a drive out to the Yarra Valley. This popular wine region 90km east of Melbourne offers idyllic scenery with lush, rolling hills and crisp blue skies or misty low-lying clouds (depending on the weather). It is also home to some cultural hotspots including the superb TarraWarra Museum of Art. This dramatic Allan Powell-designed museum houses a significant collection of modern Australian art, as well as hosting an exciting program of temporary and touring exhibitions (keep an eye on their website for school holiday programs). If you get hungry, the estate’s cellar door serves up incredible food along with snacks like hand-cut chips, freshly-shucked oysters and house-made sorbets.
If you need a bit of a sweetener for the kids, try the nearby Healesville Sanctuary, the third child to its bigger, louder siblings, the Melbourne Zoo and the Werribee Open Plains Zoo. This Australian fauna and flora park is set in tranquil bushland and offers an opportunity to run, toddle or wonder you way by a collection of Aussie animals (koalas, platypuses, dingoes, emus, you name it) without the crowds that often plague the other two zoos.