If you haven’t figured it out by the name, the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh definitely isn’t your typical art museum. I had heard about how great the Mattress Factory was for years. It wasn’t until I started exploring some of our local Pittsburgh museums with my toddler aged son, however, that I actually had a chance to visit. The Mattress Factory is one of the most well known places for art installations in the US, and it’s so different than most museums I’ve been to in the past. In addition to the creative and unique galleries, the informal nature of the Mattress Factory makes it great to visit with kids.
The Mattress Factory was originally founded in 1977 by a group of artists that aimed to support other artists. This includes artists from right here in Pittsburgh, across the country and around the world. The artists are encouraged to use their creativity to put their own interpretation into their artwork. Keep reading for more on this and our review of the Mattress Factory contemporary art museum with kids.
Disclaimer: We were given tickets to the Mattress Factory in exchange for this review. As always, all opinions are our own.
Getting Around the Mattress Factory
The Mattress Factory is split up into 3 different buildings, with one main building and two annex galleries. The entrance to the Mattress Factory is at the main building, found at 500 Sampsonia Way. The buildings aren’t located directly next to each other, so be sure to grab a map when you’re there to make sure you can find them.
All of the buildings of the Mattress Factory are located within the same block. (Although, keep in mind the buildings blend in with their surroundings so they may be tricky to find at first!) The folks at the Mattress Factory recommend that you start with the 4th floor of the main building and work your way down. Then you can walk over to the Sampsonia and Monterey Annex Buildings after getting an introduction to the Mattress Factory in the main building.
Visiting the Mattress Factory with Kids
The Mattress Factory is definitely an art museum you can visit with a baby or kids of any age. Just keep in mind that if you bring a stroller, you won’t be able to access every gallery with it. While you can take a stroller throughout the galleries of the main building, strollers brought to the other two buildings must be left in the lobbies there. I definitely recommend a baby carrier if you’re bringing a baby or young toddler to make it easier to get around. My son just turned 2, and while he loves to attempt the stairs, I ended up doing my fair share of carrying him up several flights of narrow stairs.
The Mattress Factory is full of colors, textures and sounds, making it interesting for viewers of any age. Since the artists at the Mattress Factory are encouraged to use their artistic liberties, however, there are some exhibits that may be a bit scary or slightly inappropriate for children visiting. It’s also important to check which exhibits can be touched and which are off limits. My son was definitely guilty of getting a little too excited around some of the galleries, and it’s easy to forget sometimes that you’re still in a museum since it’s such a fun and interesting place.
The Main Building of the Mattress Factory
The main building of the Mattress Factory is a great introduction to the museum, and we loved the bright and inviting colors of the 4th floor exhibit. Below are some of the highlights for things to look for with kids.
4th Floor of the Mattress Factory
- Start with the Osgemeos gallery, which is full of bright and colorful pieces from multiple artists’ private collections. Have your kids spot various objects, including dolls, a bus, bird houses and more.
- Enter the music room filled with what sounds like latino disco music coming from colorful boom boxes. Take a look at the images on the wall that resemble old album covers.
- If you’re there on the weekends, catch the zoetrope in the Osgemeos’ Lyrical exhibit. This exhibit, similar to a laser show, runs during limited times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If this is something you’re interested in, be sure to check the website before visiting.
3rd Floor of the Main Building
The mirrored rooms on the 3rd floor of the Mattress Factory are probably among the most well known galleries of the museum. One room is full of bright white floors and mannequins with red dots. Alternatively, the other room is darker with brightly colored neon dots. While my 2 year-old was a little freaked out by the fact that there were several of him in the mirrors, his friend who is just under two thought it was the coolest thing ever.
After the mirrored rooms, head back to the right of the elevators to find a room full of dolls. They’re located in a house-looking structure and include the types off that could probably exist in your nightmares. If you’re creeped out by Chucky or dolls in general, you may want to skip walking over to this side of the floor. Although, at 2, my son wasn’t scared of them and actually thought they were funny.
2nd Floor of the Main Building
This Gallery is intentionally left dark, and it can definitely throw you off if you don’t know what you’re looking for when you get off the elevator. Admittedly, the only thing we saw here was a blue screen after making our way through pitch black hallways. (Our toddlers were a little scared of this floor, so we ended up not spending a lot of time on it.) Definitely proceed with caution if you’re visiting the Mattress Factory with little kids. Especially if they’re afraid of the dark!
While you’re at the main building, be sure to spend some time walking around the Garden right next to it. While it was mostly blocked off since they were preparing for the annual Summer Solstice Garden Party when we were, it looked beautiful from what we could see. The first floor of the main building includes a cute shop and cafe and restrooms as well.
The Sampsonia Annex
The second building of the Mattress Factory is located at 516 Sampsonia Way. It currently houses A Second Home, by Dennis Maher. The entire building feels a little like a weird and whacky attic. It’s filled from floor to ceiling with a number of objects, from kids toys to old books.
If you’re visiting with kids, be aware that this building is probably the most difficult to get through. This is primarily due to the the changing elevations of the floors and the stairs throughout. The lighting and mysterious voices throughout can also be a little scary for little ones. Fortunately, there were sporadic areas that were well lit and and we were able to distract our toddlers by pointing out different objects on display.
Note: Since the building is difficult to navigate with too many people, visitors are given a time slot to enter on the weekends.
The Montery Annex
The third building in the Mattress Factory trio is located at 1414 Monterey Street, and it was definitely one of our favorites. The entrance to the building feels a little like you’re walking into a window display for an electronic store, and then you’re created by the Laboratory for Other Worlds installation on the first floor.
This new installation was just created in 2019, and it contains a number of mediums that make you feel like you walked out of a science fiction movie. Along with the interesting features, the entire audio/ visual component of the installation is powered by solar power. This was intentional as part of the artist’s push for saving the earth’s resources through renewable energy.
The 2nd and 3rd floors of the Monterey Annex contain a number of interesting works of art. Below are the highlights.
- Check out the aluminum trough handrail with a water feature leading up to the 2nd floor
- Look for the mental dinosaur skeleton by William Earl Kofmehl III behind a doorway
- Take a break on the sofa beds and move the revolving door to peek into the next room
- Find the “Unbrella” on the ceiling that lights up the room.
- Watch yourself on video in the bright green room
- Look for the steer head made of metal in the back of the 2nd floor.
- Get an anatomy lesson with the men (and women) painted head to toe in bright green and pink. True story- we had to explain a few things to our toddlers in these rooms. If you or your kids aren’t up for a few brightly colored nude statues, you may want to stick to the 1st floor.
Programs for Kids at the Mattress Factory
The Mattress Factory also offers several programs for visitors of all ages to explore their artistic abilities. Programs include:
- ARTLab: This drop-in program allows visitors of all ages to work on various artistic projects. Each program is inspired by current artists and exhibits. Examples of upcoming themes include: mask making, filmmaking, natural dying and fabric scraps. ARTLab is free with admission and held on the first and third Saturday from 1-4pm.
- Minifactory: Incorporates both art and play for the littlest artists ages 3-5. Fun examples of upcoming programs include: creating treasures using natural items, sensory play in the garden and painting objects that move. Mini factory is held on the second and forth Saturday each money and costs $5 per child.
- Summer programs for various age groups, including:
- Mini- Camp for ages 4-6
- Community Art labs for ages 7-13
- Youth Summer Workshop Series for ages 14-18
There are also programs offered during the school year. This includes Afternoons @ The Factory for kids in grades 3-5 and the Teen Art Cooperative for High School Students. More on programs offered by the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh can be found here.
Know Before You Go: Additional Information on Visiting the Mattress Factory
- The Mattress Factory is located in Pittsburgh’s North Side at 500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, PA
- The Mattress Factory is open Tuesday- Sunday and is closed on Mondays. It’s open from 10am- 5pm, with the exception of Sundays, when it’s open from 1-5pm.
- Ticket prices vary for the Mattress Factory:
- $20 for Adults
- $15 for Students/ Children 6 and Older, and Seniors
- Children Under 6, as well as students attending one of a few local universities, are FREE
- There is also an additional discount for Military and residents of the North Side.
- There’s a cafe on-site at the Mattress Factory that sells food and drinks, including coffee, salads and sandwiches.
- There are restrooms located in each of the three buildings at the Mattress Factory.
- There’s free parking available at the Mattress Factory. There’s also parking available along the street.
- According to the website, Thursday is the quietest day to visit, and Saturday is the busiest.
For more information, visit the Mattress Factory website here.
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