The newest exhibition of CSU Monterey Bay’s Salinas Center for Arts and Culture may surprise those who were expecting another cultural or educational exhibition. Instead, expect to see kids – lots of them – playing.
MY Town is a pop-up children’s museum, a place for kids to explore their very own miniature city. They can role-play at a library or a grocery store, enter the maker’s or builder’s spaces to let their creativity flow, or step into the outdoor courtyard.
It’s the result of a collaboration between six community partners with different missions, coming together to focus on childhood and education. Enid Baxter Ryce, the Center’s director (and, full disclosure, spouse of Weekly staff writer Walter Ryce) was inspired to create more family play spaces in downtown Salinas, as well as offer a dynamic research setting for CSUMB child psychology students.
She invited Lauren Cohen, executive director of the Monterey Youth Museum, on board; Cohen in turn brought on Ariana Green of the Transportation Authority for Monterey County, who shared a study showing traffic fatalities among child pedestrians are eight times more common in Salinas than national.
They decided to build a miniature network of roads and traffic signs to help teach kids to navigate safely.
CSUMB’s psychology department chair, Jennifer Dyer-Seymour, presented a 2017 study showing only 25 percent of 5-year-olds in Monterey County read at kindergarten level. So the team brought in Nina Alcaraz of First 5 Monterey, which focuses on early childhood education, and Leslie Sterian from Salinas Public Libraries. The result: a pop-up library with over 140 books.
All of this is available – for free – until July 21 when it travels around the Salinas Valley to other locations.
“We decided to take a social message we all could support,” Cohen says. “We want kids to be safe. That was an easy way for us to get behind it.”
Meanwhile, CSUMB psychology students will conduct research at the exhibit and suggest changes along the way. “The data collection by the students allows us to make sure that we’re achieving the goals for the different partners, and make sure that the museum’s working,” Ryce says.