Come to Play
The new MY Museum’s inspired hub of fun opens Saturday.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Kids tinker and play, dash and waddle, laugh and shout. They bounce off adults like pinballs, carrying miniature golf clubs and plush dolls. Eyes shining, baby teeth missing, they are in another world – a world of play, imagination, exploration. It’s a joyful scene of organized chaos, precisely how MY Museum planned it.
This past July, MY Museum (Monterey County Youth Museum) turned 11. Originally located in the Cannery Row parking garage across from the old Edgewater Packing Co. building that now houses an IMAX theater, in 2004 the interactive children’s museum initiated a growth spurt.
A sustained fundraising campaign pulled in nearly $3 million. That allowed the nonprofit to relocate to a prime downtown spot on Washington Street, expand from 2,500 square feet to 8,500 square feet and fill the new space with seven kid-sized galleries including a golf course, theater, beach, tree house, hospital, and arts and crafts center. The new center opens to the public this Saturday, Nov. 15.
“It was a broad cross section of the community, a coalition, that made this happen,” says Executive Director Lauren Cohen. “The builders all had experience with children’s museums or similar projects. We’ve had friends and families bring their kids to play and test everything.”
The museum is cleaned daily, with a deep cleaning on Wednesday (when it closes). That’s good because the kids are interacting with everything in sight.
In the back of a shrunken ambulance, a 6-year-old girl donning a stethoscope and scrubs intently performs CPR on a kid-sized dummy on a gurney. Near the theater, a boy climbs into a firefighter’s costume; another is engulfed in a thick kangaroo suit with a baby ’roo poking out of the pouch.
Here the word “museum” is misleading. This is not a place for preservation and contemplation; it’s a miniature and interactive replica of Monterey County in the form of an indoor playground/amusement park. Hence, the three-hole putting green that’s elevated off the floor, the beach playpen with portholes and a ceiling-high lighthouse, the tiny Victorian.
Replicas of a Pacific Grove adobe, the Carmel Mission and the first fire station in Monterey occupy one wall. Behind their storefront windows are the desks, chairs, computers, file cabinets and paperwork of the museum’s administrative offices. Compared to the lively, colorful playground area of the museum, the offices behind the glass look like somber exhibits from a distant place, something that could be called “Adult Humans in an Office Environment.”
The play space echoes the wisdom of Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, who put forth the theory of multiple intelligences, where the child learns through many fronts, including playing with others, receiving instruction and interacting with their environment. Learning by playing.
“We’re not big on signage,” Cohen says. “It’s more hands-on.”
So when a little girl picks up the phone at the hospital gallery to call in that “someone needs help,” she’s not just playing, but learning to function in the adult world. The fact that she speaks into the wrong end (you know how it is in an emergency) can be worked out later.
The Arts and Crafts Center, tucked behind the reception desk, is different from the rest of the exhibits. It’s a quiet zone, lined with drawers of googly eyes, crinkle paper, corks, fuzzy twist-ties, feathers and such. The kids sitting at the wrap-around counter with new markers, crayons and glue guns at the ready are in almost solemn concentration as they build their monsters and castles.
One boy lays out the material for his project: three bathroom tissue tubes, a fuzzy twist tie, and one dress sock. What he’s going to make with those, he only knows. Maybe.
Cohen looks pleased with the results, which she attributes to the donations of time and money from all corners of the community. But they are still seeking sponsors.
“Our old budget was $225,000,” she says. “Our projected budget now is $475,000. Our capacity at the old location was 100; now it’s 300.”
Two party rooms are available to rent for birthdays, furnished with sinks, cabinets and goody bags. On Jan. 2, the museum will fire up other offerings like sleepover birthday parties and a variety of workshops. They expect 50,000 visitors the first year.
“[Now] we’re in a totally different ball game,” says Cohen.
It’s an ambitious undertaking for a simple cause, succinctly stated on a placard in the lobby: “These things are fun and fun is good.” So said Dr. Seuss.