An Art Crawl with Diapers

Star Tribune – April 06, 2007

Mom culture is a new group that offers parents an outlet for art appreciation while allowing young children to tag along. One recent outing included kids 7 weeks to 4 years old. John Alspach, a study in concentration, stood sketching in the Walker Art Center gallery that houses the new “paper trail” exhibit. No surprise here. He is, After all, an artist. But at his feet were his sons, Calder, 10 months, and West, nearly 5. Around them were other parents with babies and toddlers in tow as they listened to curator Siri Engberg.

It was the second outing for Mom Culture, a fine arts series aimed at parents. The idea for Mom Culture was born shortly after 10-month-old Harper Rabatin. His mom, Lenore Moritz, realized she needed some arts stimulation, but she could find no program focusing on adults that allowed them to bring along their babies and pre-schoolers.

“ I felt like everything waas very kid-geared. I like to be entertained, too.’ Said Moritz, 37, a first-time mom who has a background in public relations.

Moritz and her husband, Michael Rabatin, moved her from New York about two years ago, and when Harper came along, Moritz decided to stay home with him.

“ This is totally right for me, but that doesn’t mean I want to stop engaging with people and doing those things that refresh me, “ she said. ”You need to retain your completeness as a person, feel whole. I thought that if I wanted this in my life, other people would want it in theirs, as well.”
She was right.

“ Oh it’s a great idea, a fabulous idea,” said Laurie Maiser of Plymouth. Maiser and her daughter Kate, 16 months, were among 22 adults and 30 kids who toured the Walker exhibit.” I have a lot of friends like me, career girls staying home. So it’s important to find something to stimulate the brain.”

Tasya Rosenfeld Kelen of south Minneapolis took the tour with her 10-month-old daughter, Eloise. A journalist before deciding to stay home with Eloise, Rosenfeld Kelen is thrilled with Mom Culture. “As a new mom, your whole life becomes the child for the first year. This is a really nice way to bring us back into the world,” she said.

As Engberg talked about the paper art that makes up more than half of the museum’s acquisitions, 9-wekke-old Calvin started to cry – loudly. Engberg, a mom herself, didn’t miss a beat. She just raised her voice a bit to be heard over Calvin’s wails as his mom, Laura Johnson, of south Minneapolis, arranged him comfortably in the baby sling she wore.

Meanwhile, Cindy Froid, also of south Minneapolis, sat on the floor with her 17-month-old, Wally, while his brother Eddie, 3, cuddled on the lap of Sarah Schultz, the Walker’s director of education, drawing on the sketch pad that each child had been given.

“ That kind of surprised me,” Schultz said, marveling at Eddies outgoing nature. Schultz called Mom Culture “a very, very smart idea, and we’re happy to be a part of it. Lenore worked with us to tailor the visit to her group, and that worked well. We look forward to doing it again.”

At the end of the tour, the stroller brigade boarded the freight elevator to up to gallery 8 café for lunch, an equally important part of Mom Culture outings. “That’s the social aspect of it,” Moritz said.

Lunch for the parents is included in the price of the outing ($100 for the five week series or $24 per event), and while moms and dads pulled out snacks from home for the kids, the little ones eyed the cookie sheets with brightly colored magnetic letters placed on each table by the Walker staff.

Alspach doled out cheese, fruit and Cheerios to his sons as he shared his ham-and-cheese panini. “it’s awesome,” said the stay-at-home dad, who lives in northeast Minneapolis. “I’ve been taking West to the Walker and the [Minneapolis] Art Institute since he was really young, but he always has to be quiet and act like an adult. Not only are [kids] welcome here, but they’re set up to accommodate them.”

Stay-at-home dad Bruce Lemmons agreed. He had attended the first Mom Culture event at the Minnesota Orchestra two weeks earlier, and daughter Maria, 22 months, had a great time. That she seemed to enjoy the Walker just as much surprised him. “ Because this was more static, I thought it was a possibility that we’d just walk right out. I was really proud of her.”