The New York Times
How can a museum ensure that it serves families who may not be able to afford school lunches or new winter coats, much less crosstown trips to an arts institution? Broadway Housing Communities, a Manhattan nonprofit, met this challenge with a daring resolution: Instead of creating programs to bring underprivileged children to an art museum, it would bring an art museum to underprivileged children.
The result is the 17,000-square-foot Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling, which opened in 2015 at St. Nicholas Avenue and 155th Street, in a neighborhood where, the museum notes, more than 70 percent of children are born into poverty. But Sugar Hill is not just the only New York children’s museum north of the Upper West Side; it is also the only one that anchors a low-income housing development and that has an affiliated, tuition-free preschool.
But while the museum has welcomed more than 56,000 visitors so far, it has had growing pains. At its start, the venerable artist it most wanted to celebrate was Faith Ringgold, a Harlem native for whom the museum was to be named. But in 2011, Ms. Ringgold, frustrated by the plans’ pace and concerned that they would not include a true art museum, withdrew her name and support. She has since come around — so much so that the museum recently opened “Sugar Hill Songbook: Select Work by Faith Ringgold,” a show of her quilts, soft sculpture, illustrations and works on paper.
“I think all children love art, but not all get the opportunity to do it,” Ms. Ringgold said in a telephone interview. “This is a place where they can see the art, do it, be inspired by it.”
But while little visitors may recognize pieces by Ms. Ringgold, also a renowned children’s book author, they regularly encounter Sugar Hill exhibitions that are abstract or Conceptual. An intriguing paradox is that the museum focuses on both a very young population — children 3 to 8 — and very sophisticated work.