Get the Message! Explore Graphic Design with Kids

art_breakEven though I expected to be surprised, I discovered something truly unexpected.

Ensconced in a Plexiglas cabinet was the Spiralizer, a rare and amusing oddity. One of a mere handful in existence, the object appears to have been plucked from a wizarding shop in Diagon Alley.

Intentionally remarkable, it was meant to be played  with, to capture the imagination and to inspire creativity.

Now safe from sticky, careless fingers in a showcase where it is part of the Graphic Design Get the Message! exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art, I was surprised to see the curiosity displayed in an art museum.

fll_spiral_designThe last time I encountered the Spiralizer, it was one of several toys that our First Lego League team played with in the basement of the Spiral Design Studio in Cohoes, NY.

It’s that fine line between Art with a capital “A” and the art that adults and children encounter every day in the media, that makes this exhibit the one that should not be missed.

Vacation Art Break

Experiencing art through the eyes of a child can be a mixed blessing, but in this case, it gave me a chance to enjoy an art exhibit in a way that was both fun and educational.


I followed my son as he attended Albany Institute’s There or Not There Vacation Art Break program, run by Stacy Livingston. A naturally engaging teacher, Stacy sat down and listened to the children, letting them lead the program while cleverly inserting lessons about positive and negative space and instruction on how to make prints with linoleum blocks.




It’s a three hour program, most of it spent in the Art Studio where the students carved the linoleum blocks that they used for printing postcards. But, a little more than halfway into the program, the class took a break to explore the graphic design exhibit.

This gave the teacher a chance to find out which art pieces resonated with the children, while a museum guide gave the kids some of the backstory on the selected items. Additionally, the kids were encouraged to look at the text art because they would be adding some to their own artwork when the returned to the studio for the rest of the class.

The class did not look at the entire exhibit, which fills several rooms and covers the entire second floor. And, I imagine, there was a deliberate decision and good reason to avoid the room with the game design exhibits from Spiral Design and Vicarious Visions given that the focus of this class was on how spatial relationships convey meaning in graphic design.

Bypassing that room, and the hands on activities at the entrance to the exhibit, they headed straight to the back where the instructor asked the kids to point out the pieces that they found interesting. Here are are the items that captured their attention, listed in the order that they noticed each:

  • Woody Pirtle’s Amnesty International’s Stop Gun Trafficking and Iran/IWon “Where’s My Vote” posters.
  • Movie Posters by Francis Edward Downy, including The Devil to Pay and Svengali.
  • Design Philosophy Animation, Digital Media, a project of The College of Saint Rose Art 356 class in Web/Interactive Design.
  • Display of toy boxes created by the Embossing Company of Albany, founded by members of the Pruyn, Lansing, and Hyatt families in 1870.
  • Printing Press and Equipment, circa 1840, Hoe & Co.

What they missed in breadth, they made up in depth. Thirty minutes in the gallery allowed the group sufficient time to spend quality time with just a few items, reflecting on what they were seeing and picking up material to add to their creative arsenal.

I highly recommend this approach to visiting any art museum,and this exhibit in particular. There are more Vacation Art Break and other education programs at the Albany Institute, as well as a lecture series, scheduled in upcoming months. Or, you could take a DIY approach, to plan a visit that appeals to you and your children. (See below for links to learning resources.)

Get the Message! Graphic Design for Kids

Before you take the kids to the Get the Message! exhibit, get ready for the visit with these fun activities and resources.

Try It!

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