Saturday, September 22, 2012

Worth A Special Trip: Children's Museum of Phoenix

Details and personality. Those are the two common threads that ran through my mind as I recalled my recent visit to the wonderful Children's Museum of Phoenix. You can tell that the people who work here and the people who visit here really love their museum.

So without further ado, let me take you on a little photographic tour and point out some of the details that really make this a museum "worth a special visit."  You can see many more photos of my Phoenix visit (and lots more of my own exhibit work photos!) on the Paul Orselli Workshop Flickr page.

As you might be able to tell from the photo at the top of this page, the Children's Museum is located in a historic renovated school building that once housed the Monroe School.  (Interesting bit of trivia: the artist Jackson Pollock attended this school when he was a child.)

I love museums that renovate and redefine existing buildings. Instead of starting with a "blank slate" (construction wise) everyone from architects to exhibit fabricators involved in a renovation project really has to enter into a sort of creative dialogue with the challenges and realities of the old space.  (Of course I'm biased since I've worked in museums that were once Victorian houses, fire stations, and historic aircraft hangars!)

A museum visit really starts from the time you park the car and enter the front door --- and here the museum starts off with a nice message by using solar panel structures in their parking lot:

and a BIG welcome as you approach the front door:

As soon as you swing past the large open admissions desk area you are struck by this huge, honking cool climbing structure:

It's funky, and like many things in the Museum it doesn't completely and immediately reveal itself to you. There are lots of questions that pop up as your eyes whiz around the structure, like "What's that flying bathtub over there?"

But of course the best way to find out is to get in there and start exploring! The Climber, like the vast majority of exhibits and activities in the Museum, really breaks down age barriers --- so kids (and adults!) of all ages really mix it up together and have fun.

Speaking of fun, which other Director of Exhibits do you know that has a real swing in her office (That's Nancy Stice showing off some of her non-traditional office "furniture."

It's clear (even down to the level of simple signs) that the Museum has a fun spirit, and doesn't take itself too seriously.  Here's a door sign on a currently unused classroom space:

and the toilet seat and faucet pipe signs that mark the restrooms:

The museum has also deliberately placed lots of comfy chairs around their spaces (instead of minimizing or eliminating seating as many museums do!)

A last nod regarding details --- check out the metal bead chain "water" running out of the faucet in this role-play area:

And last, but not least, in the Museum's "Art Studio" kids (and their adults!) can paint this cool rocket ship:

The activity is so popular, and such thick layers (artistic strata?) of paint build up over time that the museum has to "switch out" rockets and chip off the layers of paint (to be reused and recycled for making jewelry and other projects!)

All those little touches, and attention to detail, really add up at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. The sum total of those details and touches also send an important message to visitors: "we are having fun here and we want you to have fun here, too!"  And who could ask for more than that from a museum?

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