Monday, January 28, 2008

Reinventing the Children’s Museum, One Monkey at a Time

Having been raised in Cambridge, Ontario, it is fantastic to see my hometown and the surrounding area, finally getting excited about the Children’s Museum of the Waterloo Region. The museum which opened in 2003 has had its’ share of struggles; these have included the deterioration of exhibits, lack of attendance, and inability to keep a solid director. However, over the past year I have been pleasantly surprised by the numerous articles in one of the local newspapers, The Record, which has outlined the reinvigoration of the Children’s Museum. In particular, one of the most recent articles by Raveena Aulakh entitled “He’s a Wizard in a Place of Wonder: Running a Children’s Museum isn’t Child’s Play” has outlined the multitude of positive changes that have taken place, and attributes them to the successful leadership of the latest director, David Marskell.

The article describes Marskell’s re-conceptualization of the museum as a combination of a children’s place and a science centre, so that the museum will appeal to people of all ages. Very cool exhibits have been installed to accompany this new approach to the museum. As Aulakh reports, the museum has a robotic chair that breaks and then puts itself back together, and has paired up with the University of Waterloo to create an entire floor dedicated to a Digital Media Centre which allows students to interact with advanced technological devices and use video conferencing to communicate globally with other students.

Currently, the region’s attention has been captured by the temporary Jane Goodall exhibit “Discovering Chimpanzees: The Remarkable World of Jane Goodall”. The exhibit which started on January 25th and will remain until May 25th is estimated to continue the Children’s Museum upward climb. This is an expensive exhibit, but Marskell is confident that it will not only bring people into the museum, but that it will encourage guests to come back, even after the temporary exhibit has moved on.

The Children’s Museum in Kitchener has demonstrated how crucial it is for cultural institutions to have good leadership, take risks, and to find innovative ways to allow people to interact with exhibits. Furthermore, I think that the Jane Godall exhibit is a fun and downright brilliant way to engage the public; after successfully completing my Cambridge rite of passage working at African Lion Safari for two summers, I have learned that monkeys truly are the key to the public’s heart.


* Picture by Aaron Logan, from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php

1 comment:

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