Friday, June 25, 2010

The Tale of Two Museums

I shall now attempt to do something completely essay-ish. I will compare and contrast two area museums that my kids and I have visited over the past few weeks, the Gilcrease Museum and the Philbrook Museum.

First off, let me say that I had never been to Gilcrease before our recent visit. I may have lived in this state since the early '90s, but I'm a slacker. Hence the reason I drag my kids everywhere in an attempt to make them completely familiar and bored with it all by the time they're teenagers.

I do what I can.

I had been to Philbrook twice, once as a visitor and once in a work capacity to interview and photograph a woman whose work was going to be on display there. I couldn't say I remembered much from when I had been before.

Basically, I was a blank slate going in to both places.

For the sake of predictability, let's start with similarities.

1. Both have Native American sections. Not surprising.
2. Both have stunning grounds and gardens that sprawl for ages.
3. Both have restaurants that I haven't set foot into and for which I believe they grow food in their gardens. I can't imagine any other use for tomatoes and peppers and corn and zucchini in a museum garden.
4. Both have a free family day each month (more below).
5. Both have membership programs and audio tours and classes and lectures, and both have very enthusiastic staff to try to get you involved as much as possible (which I really do appreciate because I am one of those people who tend not to SEE as much as I should).
6. Both have individual memberships for $50 and dual/family memberships (two adults admitted - children 18 and under are free at both museums) for $65.
7. Both offer things for children to DO while they are visiting the museum. I elaborate extensively on this below as there are also differences here.
8. Both are about the same amount of drive time away from my house. While this may seem irrelevant, let me just say that many things in this city are on the opposite side of town and I dislike driving more than 15 minutes to anything if I can avoid it. There is a homebody in me somewhere. I'm just never home long enough to find it.

I'm sure there are more similarities between the two museums, but this is all I can think of right now.

The differences, as always, require a bit more explanation than the similarities, but there aren't as many.

1. The outlook of each museum on the experience for kids (which is more important to me than just about anything else) is different. Both of them offer sketch pads, pencils, and erasers in their kits. Both of them offer scavenger hunt cards or booklets for the kids to find certain museum items. Finally, both places offer these things for free. That's where the similarity ends.

Gilcrease has backpacks in little cubbies near their front desk. These backpacks have different names on them such as "Animal Tracks" or "Textures in Art." I forget the exact names, but those are probably pretty close. You check out the backpacks to your kids, and inside, along with the items already mentioned, are some worksheets to take home, some texture panels (the little plastic boards you put behind papers to add a background), booklets on different art techniques or information about art in general, and maybe a hands-on item (such as a piece of buffalo fur). I believe they also have crayons or colored pencils in their packs as well, if I remember correctly. Even if I'm wrong, these backpacks are well and truly stocked for the kids. The catch? You return them when you're done and only take home the pages your child has drawn and the workbook pages that can be done at home.

Philbrook's art kits don't have as much in them - only the paper, pencil, eraser, and scavenger card - but the kids get to take them home. Then, each month the kids come back, they get another art item (crayons, colored pencils, clay, etc.) and a new scavenger card. The idea here is to get you to purchase a membership so you'll come back often and maybe attend some classes and bring the boxes.

Interesting contrast, eh? BUT WAIT! There's more! Gilcrease also offers a room called the KS Ranch where the kids get to touch things! There's a "campfire" with chairs and ranch-related books around it, a chuck wagon with some of the typical gear, an art table, a saddle and lasso with practice horns, and computers with games and an art program (and yes, they are hooked up to printers, so you can have the joy of bringing it all home). Then there's the Discovery Center where you (and the kids... and if they're like mine, they'll never want to leave this area) can look at thousands of items that are in the museum without ever leaving one room. You can use the computers to search for keywords and then find the items in the drawers or you can just randomly open drawers and see what treasures are inside. Both kids dearly loved this room, and the docent didn't mind their excitement at all. I think it amused her to see M1 insist he was "working" as he dashed from computer to drawer and back again and again. There are also games on these computers, too.

I believe Philbrook had some sort of backpack as well, which may be similar to Gilcrease's, but I don't know anything about it, so I'm going to just stop here. All I know is that I saw them and so did M1.

OK. I think that's it. Exhale.

2. Genres of art. I guess this should be a no-brainer. Gilcrease has Western and Native American art and Philbrook offers a more European approach to most of its collection (although, as mentioned, they do have a Native American section in the lower level).

3. Free family days. Yes, both museums have them. The difference is in the day. Philbrook offers theirs on a weekend (second Saturday of each month) while Gilcrease offers theirs on the first Tuesday of each month (called TU Tuesday, so named for the university that owns the museum).

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I had been contemplating getting a membership to one of these museums. I would probably just get an individual membership given the fact that most of the time I visit places where I have a membership, it's usually just me and one or two munchkins and neither museum is all that expensive if we wanted to go as a family. Oz could just pay his own way ;)

I had figured, given all the hands-on stuff, that the membership we purchased would probably be at Gilcrease. So I was surprised when I asked each kid (on an individual basis so no copy-cat answers could be given) which museum they liked better.

M1 loved Philbrook because of the scavenger hunt. I thought that was a bit odd, since Gilcrease had a whole booklet of scavenger hunt items and Philbrook only had the one card, so I asked him for more information. Turns out having a whole book of items to hunt for completely overwhelmed him, and he got very animated telling me that it was frustrating when he was searching for one item and walking past others and didn't even know it.

Fair 'nuff.

He also liked that there were different types of art at Philbrook. I can understand that, too. Western-themed art can get repetitive after a while.

M2 had a more equivocal answer. She initially liked Gilcrease because they had more stuff in the backpacks. However, When I reminded her that if we went back to Philbrook, she could get more stuff, her eyes lit up and she instantly switched loyalty.

She doesn't have to touch things, so that didn't matter to her, and when I reminded M1 that Philbrook didn't have a hands-on area, he didn't seem to care. He was more worried about things to hunt. He's a mini-man on a mission.

I guess even I'm glad they're picking Philbrook. Maybe they don't have as much for kids initially, but things get old fast when you're young, and after seeing the same backpacks and the same hands-on rooms a few times, I imagine both kids would get bored at Gilcrease pretty quickly. That's not to say that we won't take advantage of those TU Tuesdays and try to go a few times a year and have a lot of fun with those backpacks, but I think they'd enjoy Philbrook more in the long run. Getting a new art item is probably also going to save me a lot of effort, and Philbrook does have really neat exhibits that come through sometimes (right now they have an Ancient Egypt exhibit on display that is extremely fascinating - I would love to go through it again without a kid on my hip).

I think we have a winner. I'd love to hear your thoughts on each museum and your experiences there, if any, before I go spending actual money, though. Thanks!

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