Sunflowers to Skyscrapers Brings Topeka and New York Museums Together
Last Sunday, families in Topeka and New York City created art together, despite over 1,000 miles between them. The meeting was part of a partnership between the Guggenheim Museum of New York and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center to serve children with autism and their families.
That morning, families gathered in both New York’s Central Park and in the Discovery Center’s outdoor classroom to play, create, and learn about children’s lives in other communities. Large posters in both locations showed the museum buildings, and children were encouraged to explore the architectural connections between the white, spiral-shaped Guggenheim and the bright yellow, sharp angles of the Discovery Center. Visual visiting stations let participants talk back and forth, sharing their artwork and talking about their days.
This event was an extension of an existing partnership between the Guggenheim and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center. With grant funding from NEXT for Autism, staff from the Discovery Center traveled to New York in 2019 to collaborate with the Guggenheim team on ways to make cultural institutions as sensory-friendly as possible for all visitors. In the winter of 2021, families from the Discovery Center joined the Guggenheim for All virtual programming.
The program is an extension of the free, sensory-friendly programs offered by both museums in which they welcome families with children on the autism spectrum. At the Discovery Center, the Puzzle Pieces program welcomes any child with an autism spectrum disorder and their family members to come to the museum for free on the second Sunday of the month from 10:00 a.m. to noon. The museum is not open to the public during Puzzle Pieces events. It is a time designed just for families with unique needs, where they are welcomed and supported by staff, volunteers and other families who face similar challenges.
The events are intentionally low-sensory experiences. Lights are kept low, noises are kept to a minimum, and a music therapist and therapy dog work on site. Puzzle Pieces provides opportunities to enjoy family time at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center in a safe, understanding environment, allows parents to network with one another, and helps families discover new resources available to them. Our purpose at the Kansas Children's Discovery Center is creating play experiences for every child. More than one in ten admissions are free or subsidized based on need, including Puzzle Pieces sessions.