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Kids flourish when exposed to art

At the Adam Swanson exhibit. (Photo by Eddy Gilmore)1 / 2
Eddy and crew brave cold damp weather to bike to the art exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Eddy Gilmore)2 / 2

Art and creativity come naturally to children. Drawings and paintings burst out spontaneously as they learn to interpret their world. However, around fifth or sixth grade, it's fairly typical for these same kids to give up because they are unable to produce images that are comparable to a photograph.

As my kids enter this transitional age, I seek out anchor points to encourage them to remain tethered to their innate creativity and playfulness. Today's students endure a world of testing. Specific answers are required. An inordinate amount of instruction time is devoted to preparing for these all-important tests which aren't going away, though everyone seems to hate them. Thus, the left brain is developed while the right brain may languish.

Ideally, both hemispheres of the brain should grow and mature at similar rates. Each is equally necessary for successfully navigating the real world. They should work in tandem. Problem solving requires creativity, not rote answers.

As a parent, it's my responsibility to expose them to the arts while encouraging them to use their own innate talents. Duluth possesses a remarkably vibrant community of artists. Easy access to great, culturally relevant artwork provides immediate advantages to our children.

I happened to marry a talented painter, but I still feel like a neophyte in my knowledge of the visual arts. Even for someone like me, and you, it is surprisingly simple to expose kids to great art in this town.

Adam Swanson, for example, currently has 27 exquisite pieces on display at the Great Lakes Aquarium. His work is full of whimsy, bright colors, texture, humor and animals. These attributes make his work tremendously kid-friendly. Swanson's paintings provide both highbrow and lowbrow accessibility.

When I recently received an invite to attend the free opening to his exhibit at the aquarium, I seized on the opportunity. Due to the aquarium's close access to Playfront Park and Bayfront, it was an ideal family activity. If the kids were to get bored, the playground would be available sooner rather than later. This took the pressure out of the equation.

I stacked the deck further by inviting the neighbor kids. It often helps to bring a friend. Due to my own deficiencies as a parent, perhaps, my kids don't jump at the opportunity to go to art shows and museums.

Feeling strongly that brains and bodies function best when both are exercised, I hatched a plan for us all to bike six miles each way to the show. This sounded like a great idea when it was 83 degrees the day before, but the day of the opening saw the temperature plummet to half that. Fog, wind and 42 degrees made for a unique spring bike ride that only Duluth can provide. To my astonishment, the kids thrived through this adversity. They felt proud to complete the ride on a mostly empty Lakewalk and learned that fun is more dependent on attitude than on external factors.

Arriving at the art opening shorty after we cruised under the Lift Bridge, mere feet from enormous rolling waves in the canal, the kids were refreshed and jazzed. More importantly, they were ready to do something relaxing indoors.

My requirement was that they put in at least 10 minutes, but they lasted more than twice that. All I did was point out that Adam's works are not overly realistic. They are creative and playful, while containing easily recognizable animals. It's vital for children to see adults creating imagination-pricking artwork.

Viewing it firsthand — having the opportunity to greet the artist — stretched the kids in unique ways. The work is impressively rich in person, more alive. The paintings are three-dimensional, boldly textured with scrapes and brush-strokes. Bright, vivid color is eye-puckering. Subtle humor presents itself on large paintings, which is lost on small two-dimensional screens.

Our kids need more of these experiences. Bodies warmed by the ride and spirits by a dose of culture, the kids contentedly ate supper picnic-style outside in the fog in brutally cold conditions. They felt more alive than usual. Such activities are plentiful in Duluth and usually free. Families and friendships flourish while enjoying them together. Be creative. Together.

Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is the author of a newly released book, “The Emancipation of a Buried Man.” Discover more at

Eddy Gilmore

Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. Connect with Eddy at