10 cool places for Pittsburgh kids to get artsy

You may have reached that point in time when your creative impulse to get artsy with your kids finally gives up the ghost.

Hey, it happens.

You may recall those more innocent times, not so long ago, when you and your kids made priceless treasures with your own two hands—a card, a drawing, a sculpture of Grandpa slaying a T-Rex with his 7-iron.

You can go back. Even the surliest, monosyllabic teenager can experience the joy of creation. Maybe even if you do it as a family.

It doesn’t have to be just you, armed with a handful of pipe cleaners, a crusted bottle of school glue, and a bunch of blank stares.

Here are just a few of the inspiring places in Pittsburgh where your family can get artsy:

Irma Freeman
The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination welcomes visitors with a sparkling mosaic front. Photo courtesy Sprout Fund

1. Irma Freeman Center for Imagination
The Irma Freeman Center’s unmistakable tile-mosaic façade and multi-function community center have been a constant in this developing Penn Avenue neighborhood, as change has swirled around it. The venue hosts all sorts of camps, classes and programs, from building moving sculptures — cars, boats, rockets — out of “upcycled” materials, to making electronic music with homemade microphones, to building miniature houses with “Mr. Rogers” model master Sandy Streiff.

Girls’ Maker Night at Assemble. Photo courtesy of Assemble

2. Assemble Community Space for Arts & Technology
Of all the acronym-soup that comes with modern education, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) seems to be one that’s, well, really gaining steam. Assemble founder Nina Marie Barbuto hosts all kinds of hands-on classes, after-school programs and “learning parties,” which blend the arts and sciences in a neighborhood (Garfield) that still has a lot of need. Special events, for instance, like Girls Maker Night get 5th- to 8th-grade girls working with robotics.

Drop in to the Hatch Art Studio for creative fun. Photo courtesy of Hatch Art Studio

3. Hatch Art Studio
The Point Breeze art studio is all about creative minds and nimble fingers. Hatch offers a complete calendar of classes for kids — and adults too — but its drop-in, open studio hours is one of our favorite features. For an hourly fee for each child/parent pair, no registration is needed. Weekly projects vary from weaving with recycled materials to collage and painting.

CMA art classes
The Art Connection at Carnegie Museum of Art has a history of more than 80 years of education for grades 5–9. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art

4. Carnegie Museum of Art
It’s not just about looking at art. Activities for just about every age, from Preschool Playdates to Saturday Art Classes for kids, to workshops for teens, are on tap at Carnegie Museum of Art. Recent Saturday Art Classes have included “Art Cat for President”—creating campaign buttons after viewing the “Teenie Harris: Elections” photography exhibition—and Fun With Clay. Saturdays and Sundays host drop-in (no registration necessary) “ARTventures” from 12:30 to 4 p.m. in the Scaife Galleries, which usually offers hands-on art activities, exploration tables and other events tied to current exhibitions.

Decorative snowflake creations made expertise from the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, (Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

5. Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
The big canary-yellow mansion that houses Pittsburgh Center for the Arts looks like it simply has to have something fun going on inside. Most of the time it does. The focus here is on learning techniques from professional artists and then using them. Classes include things like Creature Design (ages 8-10), Digital Animation Studio  (ages 11-13), Advanced Legomation (ages 5-10) and Music MAKERS in which kids make their own instruments.

Glass Center
Pittsburgh Glass Center classes fire up imagination. (Photo courtesy of Nathan J. Shaulis)

6. Pittsburgh Glass Center
Glass-blowing and sculpting aren’t something you want to try with preschoolers, but an older kid who can take the heat will really get into this. There’s a special Pittsburgh Glass Center program called the Si02 for young artists, which teaches the scientific principles behind glass-making and then gets them started. They’ll learn the techniques to make blown, fused and flame-worked art glass, with which they can design jewelry, sculpture or whatever else they can imagine. Ten and 12-week after-school programs are available in the fall and spring, and a week-long “boot camp” in the summer. Scholarships are available.

Color Mine
Ceramics is the focus of Color Me Mine. Photo courtesy Color Me Mine

7. Color Me Mine
All you need here is a little bit of patience and the ability to not drop delicate objects on the floor. This paint-it-yourself ceramics studio in Squirrel Hill and South Hills Village Mall has long been an offbeat birthday-party-type activity, with the off-chance that you or your offspring might make something that becomes a family heirloom — or at least a credible paperweight. Dozens of items are available to pick, paint, fire and take home. For younger children, there’s “Paint Me a Story” ($18), which involves reading a story, then painting scenes from it on a bowl, plate or other object.

8. Kiln-N-Time
Lawrenceville: it’s not all beards and $10 beer in this neighborhood. There’s still a lot of art being made around here, including this trend-proof little make-your-own-pottery spot. Kids can learn to throw pottery on the wheel (ages 7-16, $55), with something to show for it at the end. There are also Kids’ Canvas Paintings ($15-$22), which work great for parties.

Mini-Factory at the Mattress Factory, (Photo courtesy of the Mattress Factory)

9. Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art
Though it showcases some quite avant-garde art installations, the Mattress Factory is also a good spot for families. At the front desk, ask for a Family Guide or a Parent Guide to find routes through the Factory for children. Regularly scheduled Mini Factory events give kids the chance to explore the installations in a more in-depth way, then work on hands-on projects with their families.

Children's Museum
Making art requires total concentration at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

10. Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
At the Children’s Museum, more and more real estate and emphasis have been going towards the MAKESHOP, which teaches kids how to do everything from sewing to circuit-building, woodworking to building art from reclaimed junk. These special programs are led by artists, crafters and engineers. Most of the time, art making is fairly freeform and open-ended, with staff available to help if needed.