Bring little kids to Art-A-Whirl with a couple strategies for keeping it fun.
Art-A-Whirl is the largest open studio tour in the United States. It is so fun to have it here in the Twin Cities every year and it is a fantastic way to introduce small kids to art in a low pressure, interactive manner.
We know that any kind of art crawl can seem overwhelming with small kids — especially if you are on a budget. I’ve been updating this article since 2013, and I’m here to tell you, it gets easier! As I re-write this, I am rejoicing over the fact that diaper bags are part of my ancient history. I no longer have to lug it, and possibly lose it, while also carrying a child. With the youngest now school age, I also no longer have to carry kids. Instead, I am constantly shouting, “Wait at the corner!”
As exciting as this is for me, I have been doing Art-A-Whirl and other grown up activities with kids since my teen was a tot. Here are my personal strategies for enjoying this grown up occasion with kids. Despite its growing popularity, with proper expectations, this is a great experience with kids.
3 Strategies for a Successful Art-A-Whirl With Small Kids
Strategy #1 – Packing Just Enough
A cheap umbrella stroller and maybe a backpack are all you really need for outings like this with small kids. The stroller folds fast, it’s light weight and, in my case, it was $5 at a thrift store and lasted for several children. I was never worried about losing it. With the stroller, I had two choices. I could tuck a couple of diapers and wipes in my purse and have an exit strategy, or I could afford to bring my festival backpack because it hooked onto the back of the stroller and I didn’t have to carry it. I also had the backpack long enough that I didn’t care if it got lost or stolen. Just a note, I learned the hard way to always put receipts and other personal identifiers in my purse, which I wear, not in the bag that I leave unattended.
Art-A-Whirl is one of those awesome street food events and I do like to sneak off and buy something for myself sometimes. However, street food is not the most budget-friendly way to feed a big family, so we either bring snacks or we plan a quick stop at Eastside Food Co-op or one of the many ethnic grocery stores in Northeast Minneapolis on our way home. We can usually find the ingredients to make anything we found tempting.
FFTC’s Guide to Kid-Friendly Food Trucks
Strategy #2 – Options Without Expectations
I found — at least for my family — the best plan is a loose plan. I start at NEMAA’s website and note the activities I find most appealing. (NEMAA’s website improves every year. This year, you can filter stops by “Family-Friendly” and also by “interactive activities”. Plus, I’ll definitely pick up a booklet from the information booth once we arrive. Our minimum goal in year’s past has been a trolley ride around NE Minneapolis and making it to my husband’s performances. As my kids have gotten bigger, we’ve done more.
Three free trolleys will again operate during Art-a-Whirl weekend to shuttle you around between the various galleries (plus this year you can print a FREE bus pass). Prices for gallery art activities are listed on the individual pages on NEMAA’s site. I come with options, but I let my family and fate make the final decisions.
When making your list, look for interactive art demos, family-friendly entertainment and performance art, make a dining play (whether that is street food, pub food or a sit down meal in one of the great local restaurants in Northeast Minneapolis).
2023 Family-Friendly Offerings to Check Out
- The Liquid Zoo at Bauhaus Brew Labs. All ages live music and activities throughout the weekend at this local brewery. FREE.
- Artist Trading Cards at Northrup King Building. Stop by on Sunday, May 21st from, 2-4pm to make your own artist trading cards with water color and ink. There will also be plenty of open galleries and studio tours throughout the building. If you plan to keep it simple this year, Northrup King can be a one-stop shop with small children. FREE. (You can also make Artist Trading Cards at the NE Treehouse all weekend, so if you can’t do Sunday, you are not out of luck)
- Casket Arts and The Thorp Building. Are two more studio buildings where families can meet local artists, see original artwork and demonstrations, find food vendors and celebrate creativity all in one spot.
- Minneapolis Toy Library. Is planning an Art-A-Whirl celebration in the courtyard of their NE Minneapolis location, including free craft for kids. Sunday, May 21, 2023; 11am-3pm.
- Lighthouse Immersive Studios. Free hydration station with ice water, homemade organic lemonade, and a non-alcoholic seltzer from Sociable Cider Werks. Play a game of trivia to win prizes and enter for achance to win four free tickets to Immersive Disney Animation (see below).
- Bottineau Field Park. All-age art activities. Saturday, May 20, 2023; 12pm-4pm.
Art-A-Whirl Trolley Hours
- Friday, May 19th: 5-10pm
- Saturday, May 20th: Noon-8pm
- Sunday, May 21st: Noon-5pm
• Now through September 3, 2023
Lighthouse Minneapolis, 1517 NE Central Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55413,
“Disney Animation: Immersive Experience” is an innovative celebration that takes you inside the greatest films of Walt Disney Animation Studios, from their very earliest groundbreaking features, to the beloved hit movies of today. Imagine stepping into the Casita with Mirabel from “Encanto”, being at Pride Rock as Rafiki presents Simba, surrounded by the animal kingdom as the sun rises. Imagine hopping on a train with Judy Hopps and going into “Zootopia” or taking a magic carpet ride with Aladdin and Jasmine, and so much more … Now you can! Step into the art and legacy of Walt Disney Animation Studios and celebrate the music, artistry and animation from the creators of “Frozen, The Little Mermaid, Big Hero 6” and many more. • Premium Plus Prime Tickets: $61.87 $
Art-A-Whirl Parking: Lighthouse Artspace guests attending Immersive Disney Animation during Art-A-Whirl will receive priority parking in the privately managed lot at 1505 Central Ave., right next to the entrance of the venue. Spaces are limited. Guests who show their ticket to parking staff will pay a discounted rate of $10, 50% off the regular Art-A-Whirl rate of $20.
Strategy #3 – Poke Around
Not everything that might be worth our while is an official Art-A-Whirl event and some things we stumbled on and enjoyed in previous years have become official in later years. Kids are really great at finding art in unexpected places. One year when our kids were really small, we spent a great deal of time at a brick wall where we were encouraged to create with sidewalk chalk. Local bands are also notorious for unofficial performances and generally aim to be family friendly for this event. Stop and listen, move on to some more art, then move on again.
The big take-away from this article is you don’t have to do it all while they are small. Just dip your foot in, make it a fun time for everyone and get out before it becomes a toddler-toting nightmare. The main goal with doing anything with small kids is to set up good memories so they’ll want to do more in future years.
This article was originally written in 2014 when my kids were 8, 4, 2 and incubating. They are now 17 to 7. Visiting gets easier every year, and now this is a weekend my kids love. We update links every year and try to keep information up-to-date.