The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
Outdoor artistic adventures
One of my favorite things about parks is how they change with the seasons. While our long summers and mild winters mean we have green year round, a visit to City Park will always surprise you with how the landscape – and the park itself – has changed. Meanwhile, this past June, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden underwent a six-acre expansion that makes it a perfect place to get kids outside enjoying some art as spring arrives.
While the sculpture garden’s footprint expanded significantly – encompassing an area of land across Franklin D. Roosevelt Mall, bordered by Gulf Drive, Berky’s Circle, E. Alferez Drive and Collins Diboll Circle, adjacent to the New Orleans Museum of Art – what makes it so accessible for kids are the various entrances around the area adjacent to other park attractions. It is easy to pop in and out depending on the amount of time and child attention span available to you.
As a whole, the garden takes about an hour and a half to two hours to visit (that time includes my own 7-year-old son reading each sculpture’s title and date). The collection itself is impressive, including pieces from Henry Moore, René Magritte and Pierre-August Renoir. A highlight for kids is the famous architect Frank Gehry’s “Bear with Us,” which is a playfully named life-size bear that looks like it was made with crumpled paper and then covered in metal.
According to Susan Taylor, the Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA, “This significant undertaking reinforces NOMA’s integral role in serving the diverse communities of New Orleans.” Meanwhile, the collection is also wonderfully diverse, featuring a number of artists from around the globe and containing pieces that span the 20th century. Louise Bourgeois’s famous spiders – one of which famously lives outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain – is shaded by one of City Park’s large oaks as the spider’s leg parallels the moss coming down from the trees, creating an inviting space for kids to explore and pretend.
While the collection is international, there’s also a notable effort to represent local artists and the native landscape. Kids will easily recognize George Rodrigue’s famous Blue Dog among the pieces. One of the most impressive elements of the garden, however, isn’t a sculpture in the traditional sense but instead a bridge made of laminated tempered glass by Elyn Zimmerman that uses colored bands to show the various meanders and courses that the Mississippi River has taken in its history. Taken from 1940s maps made by geologist Harold Fisk, the bridge shows kids how meandering water has defined this city as they, too, meander their way across the bridge following one of the brightly colored paths.
Crossing the bridge leads you to what will likely be the biggest hit among younger audiences: a huge maze of mirrors by Danish artist Jeppe Hein that makes a dazzling spiral in the sunlight. Although not enormous, you can spend a dizzying amount of time walking around your own reflection and finding your way out.
The expansion of the sculpture garden also means a growth in the programming offered by the New Orleans Museum of Art. There is an outdoor classroom at the north end of the garden that provides an informal place for gathering and events, and an indoor sculpture space allows for more fragile pieces that cannot be outdoors. NOMA also has incorporated vegetation indigenous to the region as a setting for the experience of sculpture and the performing arts. Hundreds of trees, palmettos and shrubs are being added to the site, aligning with the historical fabric of the landscape.
Although there always seems to be a reason to head to the park with kids, the expanded sculpture garden no doubt will inspire us to put a more artistic spring in our step as the weather gets warmer.
Just the Facts:
The Sculpture Garden is open 7 days a week with free admission. (On Tuesdays the Sculpture Pavilion is closed for maintenance.)
Through March 31 | 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
April 1–September 30 | 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Note: While Service Animals are permitted, pets are not allowed inside the sculpture garden.
NOMA offers a free mobile audio guide to the sculpture garden: BesthoffGarden.noma.yourcultureconnect.com
For more information, visit: NOMA.org/sculpture-garden