Let me begin by saying how much I love that PAM (Portland Art Museum) offers free admission to kids. I'm an Oregonian by birth who lives in the Boston area now, and I find it shocking how expensive it is to go visit the Museum of Fine Arts with my family in my new "home" city of Boston.
I took a membership at the PAM before a recent month-long visit to my native city. I'm home-schooling my 10 year old son, and we'd decided to focus on art and science during our visit to Grandma's house. We came to PAM once a week between mid November and late December of 2013.
We started off with a visit to see the special Samurai exhibit. My son had already seen it in Boston (at the MFA), but wanted to see it again. Between my membership and his age, it cost us... nothing! He thought they didn't display everything in Portland that he'd seen in Boston, but I suspect this was just a trick of different space and his 4th grade attention span.
What was really great about spending time at PAM is my son's new-found appreciation for modern art. He really enjoys the contemporary pieces at PAM. We visited only the newer building (with the contemporary art) on our first visit, and explored the older works (in the more historic building) thereafter, as well as returning to the contemporary exhibits. My kid has decided he loves 1) sculpture and 2) contemporary art. Thank you Portland Art Museum.
The buildings are slightly tricky, but there's an app for that (seriously! Look up "meridian" on iTunes) and we did just fine with the Museum's paper map on our first visit. You just need to note where the two building connect (mostly underground.) We were very grateful for the cafe after a couple of hours. I wish they had more than pastry and (sad, West Coast) bagels.
Parking isn't great, but even downtown Portland is trivial compared to... anywhere on the East Coast. <sigh> Seriously, we got dropped off most visits to save on parking, but, aside from the cost of meters, it was not hard to get a spot within walking distance of the museum if one was prepared to pay for parking and not planning to stay for an entire working day.
I'm mostly able-bodied (and in my 30's), but I have a bad foot, and it was easy to use the elevator when my foot started to bother me. I found this museum very easy to visit, comfortable, and so welcoming to a family with grade-school kids. I don't have stroller-aged children now, but I could tell this place would be a piece of cake for those who do.
The greatest thing of all about PAM is the collection of docents who seem sincerely interested in sharing art with the public. My son was very taken with the "suspended red piano" object in a photo I've uploaded, and we sat with that piece for about an hour one day. A docent talked to him about it, showed him how the interactive part worked, and discussed the artist (with a 10 year old kid!) We went on to discuss that piece with several other museum visitors. :) Another day, a different docent pointed out a visiting Norman Rockwell piece, talked to him about it, and really treated my child like a human being. That is not something I take for granted in an art museum, and I think it will forever affect how my son feels about art and his place in the art world. That's pretty great.
PAM does have a few pieces by some of the world's most famous artists (Picasso, Monet, Rodin, ...) but nothing to compare with our local museum in Boston. In spite of this, I suspect that my family has gained more art appreciation from the "humble" PAM than we ever will at home, and, for this, I am grateful.
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