Despite all their riches, the dauphin and dauphine never had as much fun in Versailles as the children of Canberra will this summer in the interactive mini palace created just for them at the National Gallery of Australia.
Two small boys closely related to the RiotACT were lucky enough to be invited in for a sneak preview of the gallery’s new children’s zone, NGA Play, this week and the only problem with the experience was how devastated they were when we had to leave.
The gallery has made a huge symbolic gesture by moving children’s activities previously tucked away towards the end of its blockbuster exhibitions to prime position just inside the main entrance of the gallery. The first thing children (and their parents or carers) will see when they arrive at the national institution from today will be NGA Play.
NGA Deputy Director Kirsten Paisley told the RiotACT that while the gallery remains keen for children and families to visit its major exhibitions, it also wanted children to be able to experience its famous family rooms year round, for free.
“You can keep coming back to the NGA Play room, and this mini palace that we’ve created, without having to keep going back into the exhibition,” she said.
“We wanted to assist the incidental family visit, where you’re not necessarily booking into anything, but you want to come and do something with your kids on a rainy day or a very hot day, you can come here.
“We’ve also created at the back of the NGA Play a space where we can do booked in activities, and there’s a whole range of bespoke programs through the school holidays.”
Ms Paisley said the gallery’s staff had been creating family rooms for many years and counted among their number trained educators and educationalists who had devised programs to cater for a wide range of skills and age levels.
“There are areas that are carpeted, you can actually put a child down to play with the soft sculpture topiary, to much more complex, fine motor skill engagement such as making your own chandelier,” she said.
“Also, we wanted to have enough going on that you can come back several times and experience something different.
“There’s also an iPad app where you can design your own water fountains, that explores the ideas of engineering that were behind the garden of the palace.”
Entry to the mini palace is free, and it will be open from 10am till 5pm daily from today and throughout the running of the Versailles: Treasures from the Palace exhibition. In May next year, NGA Play will have a makeover with details of what interactive installations will be on offer then yet to be announced.
The RiotACT’s test audience, aged 4 and 7, made a beeline initially for the interactive topiary garden, consisting of cushion building blocks in lush garden shapes and colours. Next, they took a spin on the slide, having posed for a photograph of themselves as Louis XIV (girls can pose behind the Marie-Antoinette cut-out). Finally, they sat down in the mini hall of mirrors with a pair of scissors each to create a chandelier from clear plastic sheets and gold chains. We took a sheet with instructions on making a Louis XIV-style wig home with us.
Other activities on offer in the mini palace include crown making, weaving and drawing.
Workshops and holiday programs are open for booking at nga.gov.au/calendar
Children aged 16 and under are free to enter the Versailles exhibition accompanied by a ticket-holding adult. The exhibition opens on December 9.
Pictured are children at the launch today of NGA Play and NGA Deputy Director Kirsten Paisley. Photos: NGA