I was informed by some other moms that the ImaginAsia programs are the most popular ones produced by the Smithsonian. Last year we did an Asian inspired project at the Textile Museum so we skipped their Coiling Dragons activity and opted for a Valentine theme. “In Every Language Love” was open to all ages. When we walked into the classroom on sublevel 2 of the Sackler Gallery, the ceilings were colorfully adorned in past art projects and Indian music filled the air. I knew right away we were in for a treat.
The staff directed us to sit at a table displayed with large printing blocks inscribed with the word love written in various languages. Other printing blocks, similar to stamps, were in the form of symbols like hearts and a rose. Our table had blocks of love in Chinese, Cambodian, Arabic and Indian languages. Other inspiration came in the form of a digital slideshow displaying images of love in Asian art.
There were three staff members making their rounds in the room demonstrating the activity and also checking to see if we needed extra paint, rollers, or help. The blocks were rotated so people could decorate their Valentine cards with different writing and objects.
We arrived at ImaginAsia shortly after the program began and the room was half full. When we left an hour later, there was a long line out the door. I could also tell there were some regulars in the group.
Just outside the classroom is the sculpture “Monkeys Grasp for the Moon.” The exhibit is similar and ironic to the ImaginAsia Valentine project we completed. The linked animals represent the word monkey in an array of languages.
Across from the sculpture is an interactive surface table. Run your finger across a virtual pond filled with stones and view ancient works of calligraphy from China and Iran. My child had little interest in the latter, but enjoyed “dipping” her finger in the water.
Good to Know
- Security will check your bags upon arrival so keep food and drinks at home. Cameras are permitted.
- The gift shop is nice, but expensive. Kid-friendly items include stuffed mini pandas, origami, Japanese kimono designs and woodblock prints coloring books.
- While you are visiting the Sackler Gallery, take advantage of the Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian Castle. In the warmer months, the carousel behind the castle is open for a nominal fee.
The Freer and Sackler Galleries are physically connected via exhibition space. We took advantage of the temporary exhibit, The Peacock Room Comes to America at the Freer Gallery. The Peacock Room was once a popular dining room in London is filled with more than 250 ceramics collected by museum founder Charles Lang Freer. Only on view until spring 2013, it’s worth peeking into the ornate room filled with Chinese designs.
In addition to ImaginAsia, other family programs include ExplorAsia interactive carts for children up to age 8. Throughout the year the Freer-Sackler museums host family friendly performances and festivals.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art is open daily from 10am to 5:30pm, but closed on Christmas. Admission is free. By extreme luck at 1pm on a Saturday, we found a few parking spaces open across the street from the museum. When we left at 3pm, there was no parking in sight. The best way of getting here is the metro. The museum is less than a block from the Smithsonian stop on the orange and blue lines. After your visit, hop on the metro and dine at nearby Union Station.
Photo by Kathleen Molloy.