NORTH ADAMS -- Jay Durand and his wife, Shannon Farley, know what it is like to wield cupid's arrow. But they more often have needed it to commandeer a babysitter before they could venture out to celebrate their love.

"On previous Valentine's Days, we've tried to get out but that hasn't always been possible. Babysitting is obviously the big challenge," Durand said candidly.

This year, they plan to stroll leisurely through the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art while their two children head to Kidspace.

The museum calls it "Date Night." Parents can peruse the galleries, bestow a hand-made present upon their loved one, and dine by candlelight in the museum café.

"The childcare is a big part of this," said Durand. "I know the kids will have their own special evening, and we won't have to stress about finding someone to watch them."

Mass MoCA's education department, restructured in October, has been expanding its programming beyond Kidspace and into the broader museum.

"I think they will see that it is a different way of engaging with the museum," said Laura Thompson, Mass MoCA's director of education. "We are trying to do things that are fun and light and kooky -- and show people that there are many different opportunities for them when they come to Mass MoCA."

"A couple that has young kids never gets to go out," she added; she is married with two children. "They need time out with their partner and need something fun for their kids to do too."


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Date night is open to any couples, with or without children. However, reservations are required and space is limited to 25 couples and 20 children.

And if the idea of flowers and chocolates doesn't turn on a couple, maybe one of the creative activities dreamed up by Mass MoCA's education department will spark a fire in their hearts.

Among the activities is a couples meditation lead by instructor Jyotin, designed to help partners connect, and a collage area where they can create a visual representation of their love.

There will also be little suggestions for connection scattered through out the galleries -- for example, one card will read "kiss your loved one like it's the first time."

"Love potions" like the "Be Mine Mojito" will be for sale at a cash bar. And anyone needing a little freshening up will fin that the bathrooms have perfume and mints at their disposal.

Thompson preferred to keep a few of the evenings' activities a secret. After all, surprises are fuel for love. But "every detail has been thought of," she promised.

"It's a rare opportunity that you get to have fun in a museum like this, thinking about how much you love each other, and art is great way to bond -- not only as families but as couples," said Thompson, whose own family will be milling around during Date Night.

Meanwhile, inside Kidspace, children will dine on pasta and chicken nuggets and delve into planned art projects such as crafting homemade playdough and paper stained glass windows. And Shannon Toye, Mass MoCA's Kidspace education coordinator, who is trained in children's yoga, will offer a mindfulness meditation.

Perhaps that will yield children with a bit more love in their hearts than when they were dropped off. Or at least maybe they'll fall peacefully asleep in the back seat on the way home.

Durand said he and his wife are both looking forward to being "kid-free" for a couple of hours, but he is especially fond of hitting up the galleries.

"It's been probably a year since I've walked through them, and while I love going through with my kids, it's hard to pay full attention to what I'm seeing when I've got to keep one eye on them," he said. "I'm mostly looking forward to being able to have a relaxing stroll in the galleries and a relaxing meal in the café."

And who knows what all that relaxing may lead to.

To reach Carrie Saldo: www.carriesaldo.com

If you go ...

 

What: Date Night at the museum for adults with art activities for children

Where: Mass MoCA, North Adams

When: Thursday, Feb. 14, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Admission: $50 per couple, $15 per child; space is limited

Information: Reservations, (413) 664-4481, ext. 8500

 

What: Mass MoCA free day

When: Saturday, 11 a.m.

Chicha Libre Dance Party, 8 p.m.

Admission: Free to galleries

Dance party is $10 in advance or $14 at the door

Information: www.massmoca.org