AP NEWS

A look at Children’s Museum set for New Orleans’ City Park

May 11, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Even before families step inside the huge new Louisiana Children’s Museum building slated to open in New Orleans City Park this summer, they’ll already have encountered some of the whimsical and playful exhibits that museum leaders hope will inspire and educate visitors of all ages.

A carved stone labyrinth will stand on one side of the museum. In front of that entrance, families will step on a footbridge and wade through fog and mist generated by an interactive sculpture created by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya.

Both the footbridge and a parking lot overlooking the New Orleans Museum of Art’s sculpture garden will open to a broad, 7,770-square-foot front porch, the first of many play areas in a two-story, two-wing building that takes advantage of the natural environment of City Park surrounding it.

The new Children’s Museum is the five-gallery, 58,000-square-foot centerpiece of a $47.5 million, 8.5-acre campus that will soon replace the 33-year-old museum on Julia Street in the Warehouse District.

Museum leaders have been working for over a decade to relocate to City Park, and the new building will triple the available exhibit space. It will also add outdoor play areas, exhibits to improve cognitive skills, and displays that will teach kids about cultures and landscapes unique to south Louisiana.

Children’s Museum CEO Julia Bland said the building incorporates exhibits and play areas in ways that researchers say will help children reach their full potential.

“If we as a community believe that every child has tremendous capacity, capability, and can reach their potential, then however they learn, wherever they’re born, we ... (should) start them on a positive trajectory early in ways that research shows us” are most effective, Bland said.

Bland hopes the museum can help in bringing Louisiana children’s literacy and health rates up to national averages.

She noted that Louisiana ranks 48th overall in well-being indicators and that about 40 percent of the state’s kids start kindergarten already behind where they should be academically.

The museum hired the exhibit designers with a California firm, Mithun, which partnered with local architects Waggonner & Ball. They created spaces using the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy, which encourages kids to play with each other with minimal prompting from adults.

Museum officials also partnered with Tulane University School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Tulane’s Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, the LSU AgCenter and the Grow Dat Youth Farm.

Most visitors will enter through the front porch, which will be decorated with Mardi Gras-like beads on the railing, and then blue glass doors — a nod to the blue doors on the Julia Street building — that lead to a south wing that’s open free to the public.

That space features a literacy center and a parent resource center where experts from the museum’s partners will offer free lectures and information sessions. Acorn, a 165-seat Dickie Brennan & Co. cafe, will serve family-friendly dishes.

In the north wing, accessible through a glass-walled atrium called Julia Street, a paid-entrance museum will house galleries featuring up to eight exhibits each. One feature will be a 100-foot Mississippi River model, and the museum will bring over a beloved bubble exhibit from Julia Street.

Immediately to the right of the atrium on the bottom floor is a “Play With Me” gallery, designed for infants and toddlers (and their parents).

Featured exhibits there include a sensory lagoon with rainsticks, a peek-a-boo puppet theater and reading nooks, with a backdrop designed by muralist Alex Beard, depicting wildlife found in the park.

To the left of the glass walkway entrance is a gallery called “Follow That Food,” which shows the route some local produce and seafood travel from farms and coastal waters, to trucks and ships with play gears, onto scales at the Port of New Orleans, stopping at a toy food market before ending up on family tables.

A mini “Mr. Okra” truck, painted by New Orleans artist Dr. Bob to resemble the truck of the famed local food vendor, maps the truck’s route through local neighborhoods, play-delivering ingredients used in the recipes of Louisiana grandparents interviewed by museum staff.

Next to the food gallery is “Dig Into Nature,” which highlights natural resources unique to the Gulf Coast region. There, “caring” and “sharing” stations will allow children to bring their own shells, rocks and other outdoor treasures to examine under microscopes and projectors, and to learn more about wildlife by playing with toy X-rays and other tools.

Upstairs is the “Make Your Mark” gallery, a cultural center that explores New Orleans’ rich artistic, architectural and musical heritage while allowing kids to make their own creations.

Besides the bubble exhibit, there will be a design studio to allow kids to map out their own cities, a Shotgun House painted by another local artist, Terrance Osborne, and a Jammin’ House with a variety of instruments.

A chessboard-like game will have 64 squares, each featuring a sound from a New Orleans neighborhood, including chants from fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the rumble of a streetcar and sounds of bubbling water from a burst New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board pipe.

And finally, the most popular exhibit is expected to be the “Move With the River” gallery, which will explore the role the Mississippi River plays from Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The “wet, winding journey” will teach children about coastal erosion and Louisiana’s attempts to slow it down through dredging and other projects, using a sedimentation table to explain how land builds.

“It’s fun, it’s messy, it’s hands-on and it’s geared toward kids, but it also shows the key to our salvation,” Bland said.

Together, the exhibits and open play areas are designed to increase children’s literacy, environmental knowledge, health and wellness, and to provide access to arts, culture and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

Interspersed throughout the building’s galleries and 47,000 square feet of outdoor exhibits are nooks and crannies for kids to explore.

They include edible gardens, play areas around the 22 live oak trees on the site, and 12 “kindows,” or kid-size windows, on exterior walls that children can climb into and then peer out to see the park outside.

“The intent is a natural progression through the building that takes you through various landscapes,” said Richard Franko, a partner at Mithun who oversaw the design. “It makes it unique from any other museum throughout the country.”

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Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com