How to Engage with NYC Arts and Cultural Institutions

New York City is home to more than 700 galleries, 380 nonprofit theater companies, 330 dance companies, 131 museums, 96 orchestras, 40 Broadway theaters, 15 major concert halls, five zoos, five botanical gardens, and an aquarium. Many of these institutions offer free hours or suggested admission.

Questions to Ask at an Art Museum

Before you enter the building

  • How does the museum relate to the surrounding buildings?
  • What words describe the museum building and its exterior?
  • What’s my general impression of the museum building?
  • What are my expectations of the interior based on my impressions of the outside of the building?

As you enter the museum

  • How does the space relate to my expectations?
  • What has the museum done to make me feel welcomed into the building?
  • Do I want to follow a floor plan or just wander around exploring the museum and be surprised (totally OK)?

In the galleries (as you enter one of the rooms or spaces)

  • What is the mood of the gallery or museum space?
  • What makes me say that? Is it due to the lighting, carpeting, crowds, lack of crowds, the artwork in the galleries, or something else?
  • Is there one work of art that I feel is the focal point of the room or space?
  • What makes me say that?

When you choose to stand before one work of art

  • Why did I select this one work of art to observe?
  • How does it fit into the other works in the gallery or space? (Museum staffs work to arrange works of art in very specific ways.)
  • How could I describe this work to a visually impaired person?
  • What questions do I have about this artwork? (This is not as easy as it seems!)

When watching people

  • Do other museum visitors seem to be gathering around one particular work of art?
  • When I observe the people, are they mostly alone or in groups?
  • Do people look like they are engaged in looking at the art?
  • How are people spending most of their time: reading labels or actually looking at art?
  • This is an optional piece: secondary students may enjoy approaching this through the lens of a sociologist!

Questions to Ask at a Dance Performance

Before you see a dance production

  • What do I know about the company, choreographer, or individual dancers?
  • What do I know about this particular production of this dance work? Is this a new dance or a re-staging of a previous dance?
  • What do others say about this dance production and what do I want to know before seeing it? What dance reviews, informal word of mouth, and publicity items give me more information?

Before entering the dance theater space

  • How, if at all, does the exterior of the theater capture my attention?
  • How does this theater exterior compare to other dance venues that I have seen or are nearby?
  • Who else seems to be attending the show? What is the make-up of the other audience members (for example, age, gender, ethnicity, race, etc.)?

As you enter the dance theater

  • What is the energy of the dance space compared to the street I just left?
  • What senses seem to be most activated for me? (Touch, sight, sound, smell?)
  • How do you navigate the building to find your seats? Who helped me? Are they easy to find? Why?

Once in the dance space

  • What strikes me about the design of the performance space? The lighting?
  • What do I notice about the “house” or audience seating. Are there accommodations for those who need assistance with stairs? Special seating for wheelchairs, etc.?
  • What do I notice about the stage or performance area? Are there set pieces or is it a bare stage? Is there a curtain when looking at the stage? What might I understand about the production before it even starts?

Observations about the production

  • What captures my attention during the dance? Is it the dancers? The set? Music? Movement?
  • What costumes are the dancers wearing? Do they complement the movement? How?
  • Does the movement engage me and hold my attention?
  • What do I think about the performances? Are the dancers committed to the work and concentrating?
  • How do the dancers interact with one another? With the space or set? With the music itself?
  • How do the choreographer and designers (costume, lights and set) stage the action to focus the dance for me? (Dance artists work to tell stories in varied and very specific ways.)
  • How might I describe this work to a visually impaired person? What might a deaf or hard of hearing person understand about the dance if not able to hear it traditionally?
  • What questions do I have about this production? What is the meaning of the dance? (This may not as easy as it seems!)
  • How did it feel when the lights came up and I was brought back to the reality that I was in a theater and it is now time to leave?
  • Who else in the dance audience with me?
  • I took note of who entered the theater with me. Now who captures my attention before the dance performance begins, during the production and at intermission? Why?
  • How do people interact with the dance? Do they seem to laugh when I laugh? Gasp when I am amazed by the dancers? Applaud? When? Why?
  • What is the interaction, if any, among the dancers and the audience?

Questions to Ask at a Music Concert

Before you go to the concert

  • What are my expectations for this concert?
  • What do I know about this artist, type of music, and the era that the music comes from?
  • If the music will be unfamiliar to me, what might I read to learn about it before I go? What concert reviews, informal word of mouth, and publicity items give me more information?

As you enter the concert venue

  • How do the audience members conduct themselves and show appreciation at this rock, classical, hip-hop, folk music, etc. concert?
  • Will I be free to express myself and my appreciation with my speaking voice?

During the concert

  • Does this piece of music tell a story? If there is a story, is it communicated with words (lyrics)?
  • If the piece uses instruments only, do the instruments communicate a story or message? How does that happen?
  • What is the mood of the piece? Is it celebratory, sentimental, passionate?
  • Which instruments do I see? What are the voice types that I hear?
  • Does the music move and does it move quickly, slowly?
  • Is there a recognizable theme or melody? How often is that theme or melody heard?
  • When the theme or melody appears, does it change? If so, how does it change?
  • Do I hear many melodies at once? Do they sound as if they move flowingly and horizontal or do they move vertically (up and down)?
  • Is there anything about the music/lyrics that stands out for me?
  • Does the music “touch me” or “speak to me” in a particular way? What emotions does it create in me?
  • Do I want to explore other performances by this composer or artist?
  • Does the music remind me of other music I have heard?
  • What country or culture is represented by this music?

When you read a review of the concert

  • What parts of the concert did the reviewer mention or highlight?
  • Do I agree with the reviewer’s opinion? Why or why not?
  • What else did I learn about the music as a result of reading the review?
  • What was the best think about this concert?

Questions to Ask at the Theater

Before you see a theater production

  • What do I know about the play, musical, or theatrical event? What do I know about this particular production of this piece if this is not a new work?
  • What do others say about this production and what do I want to know before seeing it? What theater reviews, informal word of mouth, and publicity items give me more information?

Before you enter the theater

  • How, if at all, does the exterior of the theater capture my attention?
  • How does this theater exterior compare to other theaters I have seen or are nearby?
  • Who else seems to be attending the show? What is the make-up of the other audience members (for example, age, gender, ethnicity, race, etc?)

As you enter the theater

  • What is the energy of the theater space compared to the street I just left?
  • What senses seem to be most activated for me? (Touch, sight, sound, smell?)
  • How do I navigate the building to find my seats? Who helped me? Are my seats easy to find? Why?

Once you are in the theater

  • What strikes me about the design of the theater? The physical space? The lighting? Looking up— what do I see? Looking at the frame of the stage (proscenium), does anything catch my eye?
  • What do I notice about the “house” or audience seating. Are there accommodations for those who need assistance with stairs? Special seating for wheelchairs, etc.?
  • What do I notice about the set design or curtain when looking at the stage? What might I understand about the production before it even starts?

Observations about the production

  • What captures my attention during the play? Is it the actors? The set? Music? Why?
  • Does the plot engage me? Do I care about the characters? Why?
  • What do I think about the performances? Are they believable? If not, why not?
  • How do the actors seem to interact with one another? With the set and the world of the play?
  • How does the director, actors and designers (costume, lights and set) stage the action to focus the drama for me? (Theater artists work to tell dramatic stories in varied and very specific ways.)
  • How might I describe this work to a visually impaired person? What might a deaf or hard of hearing person understand about the play if not able to hear it traditionally?
  • What questions do I have about this production? What is the meaning of the play? (This may not as easy as it seems!)
  • How did it feel when the lights came up and I was brought back to the reality that I was in a theater and it is now time to leave?
  • Who else in the theater audience with me?
  • I took note of who entered the theater with me. Now who captures my attention before the play begins, during the production and at intermission? Why?
  • How do people interact with the production? Do they seem to laugh when I laugh? Gasp when concerned about the action? Applaud? When? Why?
  • What is the interaction, if any, among the cast members and the audience?

Parent Tips for Visiting an Art Museum

Speak with your child about art before you visit an art museum. It can be as easy as:

  • Talking about the artwork in your home and asking, “Would you like to know the family history of that quilt? (painting? piece of pottery?)”
  • Reading picture books with your child and asking, “How are the pictures helping to tell the story? What materials did the illustrator use?”
  • Being interested in the artwork your child does at school and asking, “Can you tell me about the artwork you are doing in school? Can you bring some of your artwork home? What materials did you use? What decisions did you make in creating it?”
  • Walking in the neighborhood and asking, “What decorations do you see on the building? Where do you find patterns and textures?”
  • Riding on the subway and asking, “What artwork can you find at the station platform? What artwork do you see as we walk through the station? Why do you think the artwork was put here?”

When you are in an art museum

  • Let your child decide what they would like to look at. Look at the artwork first, not the label. Gently guide your child by asking:
    • Why did you stop here?
    • What do you see?
    • Can you tell me more about that?
    • What do you like about this artwork?
    • What questions do you have about it?
  • Terms you may wish to use:
    • Line
    • Color
    • Contrast
    • Texture
    • Shape
    • Emphasis
    • Movement
    • Pattern
  • Let your child determine when it is time to move on to another artwork.

Always keep in mind:

  • It is more important for your child to look at and talk about the artwork than to be told what they are seeing.
  • It is better to plan several short trips than to plan an entire morning or afternoon in an art museum.
  • The trip should be a positive experience that encourages your child to want to visit the art museum again and again.

For more information, please email ArtsAndSpecialProjects@schools.nyc.gov.

Back to Top