Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Flying solo... at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

After the longest Easter hols in living memory, I headed to the National Maritime Museum on Tuesday, for some nautical themed fun with Mr. C. -  a man I met on twitter. Shhh!

I was so excited to be set free sans kiddos that when I came upon the front door, I felt a bit like Dorothy coming to visit the Wizard of Oz. Set in the heart of regal Greenwich, just down the hill from the Royal Observatory and through the park from The Cutty Sark, this place is impressive. Scarily so. But I clicked my heels together and went inside.

The most airy, light filled beautiful space embraced me and Mr. C. did not disappoint ;). After a coffee (good) and a chat (great) in the Sammy Ofer wing, I got the royal treatment.

Tuesdays are play days, so first up we dropped in to meet Dave - a man with a knack for keeping kids entertained and engaged with what the museum has to offer. As he strummed his guitar, the little ones stomped around with scarves and shakers, following a trail through the museum before settling back in the activity room for maritime themed arts and crafts. At £3 a session for under 5s, it looks like money well spent.

The craft cupboard is like an artyfarty pirate's treasure chest - chock full of the most enticing crafty stuff. Seventh heaven.

Passing a silver speedboat and a gilded showboat, we headed up to the mezzanine, home to "The Big Map". It's a massive map of the world on the floor, which the museum team uses in creative ways to get kids to contemplate the sea, the land and their place in the world. Genius.

Through the Baltic glass alcove, through the RE:THINK gallery, in a room that used to be an office, lies a beach-themed exhibition, curated by Bethan Peters, Choreographer in Residence (yes, really). Complete with indoor pebble beach, wave lights and ocean sounds, it provides a restful space for tired smallies or a peaceful experience for autistic visitors.

Back in the RE:THINK gallery, kids are encouraged to be hands on, with volunteers on hand to take exhibits out of the cabinets. Brilliant! The theme changes every 6 months, so nothing here gets stale. There's a big happy wall, stuck through with pencils, where you give feedback or share thoughts on exploration, discovery and the sea. Just another clever, quirky touch that makes this place a wonder for local and international visitors alike.

Before leaving, we headed to the AHOY! zone - an interactive place reminiscent of the Discover Story Centre in Stratford. Smallies get to  stoke the coals in the engine room, sail foam boats on an air-ocean (seeing is believing), play fishmonger, or watch from below deck as the seagull-cam on the top of the mast keeps an eye on what's happening in the main museum space. There are thoughtful touches aplenty here for visitors with special needs and it makes the overall experience better for everyone.

Mr. C. and I had a long chat about my motivation for the Arts Crusade and how to attract low income families into galleries and museums. The National Maritime Museum is free entry and has an excellent outreach programme (involving a blue suitcase filled with artefacts), but still struggles to reach kids without going through schools. I've not found the answer in the months I've been doing this, the best I hope for is to inspire by doing and hope that giving myself a #KickUpTheArts might have a ripple effect.

I can understand why an incredibly gorgeous building like this can feel stuffy and imposing to visitors not used to museums and galleries, but once through the doors, it's a welcoming, happy, inspirational place. I could've spent the whole day and not got bored, but it would've looked a bit weird without the kiddos...

Next up at the museum is the groundbreaking "Above and Beyond" season (May 27 - Aug 29), a totally interactive exhibition where you can learn to fly like a bird, design and race your own supersonic jet, and even take an elevator to the edge of space. This family is SO going. (it's only 30 mins by overground from Dalston Junction, change at Shadwell for the DLR)

As for my #twitter date with Mr. C.? He had me at "ahoy!"...

The Arts Crusader ⚡️

P.S. Join the crusade on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest and give yourself a #KickUpTheArts

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