Monday Commentary
11:53 am
Tue January 31, 2006

Wilmington's Children Museum Moves Forward

Wilmington's Children's Museum moved significantly closer to reopening over the last week - while workmen installed exhibits in their new space, the board of directors got ready to hire a new executive director. WHQR's Megan Williams has more.

With Pink Floyd blasting out of a CD player, workmen tear the wrapping off components of the pirate ship that will greet visitors in the main hall. The ship is a Children?s Museum tradition, recreated on a scale suited to the new, bigger space. As she leads the way through all the construction, museum development director Mary Beth Bankson pauses next to one of the new exhibits ? a set of child-sized wooden train cars.

"It?s white right now, but Becky Cary will be painting all kinds of big blowfish and starfish and things on it. It?s got these chimes on here."

The chimes Bankson strikes ring through an empty room that will soon be crowded with colorful exhibits, and hordes of visitors. When it opens, the Children?s Museum will be full of these sorts of whimsical touches, combining all-new exhibits with the work of local artists ? from sculpted sea creatures, to entire rooms wrapped in murals. But exactly when it will open is still a question. Originally, the new facility was supposed to debut this month. But delays pushed the big event back to the end of April. The move from Market street to the Historic District was complicated by the departure last fall of the museum?s executive director.

"It?s pretty wild," says interim director Pam Barnhardt, when asked about the past few months without a permanent leader at the helm. "I mean, between the construction and renovation with the building, getting ready for an opening, we have a lot going on. That is going to ramp up quickly once the new Executive Director?s named and we start moving forward."

Barnhardt says the museum?s board of directors is conducting final interviews for the position this week and hopes to have a hire made by early February. The vision for the new space has changed little over the past year, but according to Bankson, fundraising to implement those ideas has slowed.

"The Museum has a capitol campaign of 3.2 million which has been very successful, it?s about two-thirds of the way. Most any fundraising campaign hits a lull at that point. And that?s sort of where we are. But once this building is open, and the new executive director is in place, that?s a very high priority to finish that capital campaign."

The museum anticipates 45,000 visitors a year to its new location, which is five times larger than the old facility. Former director Mebane Boyd remembers the trials of the smaller space: "The museum was so small that the fire code capacity, which was at 99, would regularly fill up on rainy days, or holidays, or Saturdays. And there were a lot of times that people had to wait outside because the facility had reached its fire code capacity."

A larger space was one of the reasons for the move. And according to Boyd, art became another priority early in the process, through the urging of board members and the design company the museum hired.

"In order to make a museum uniquely one that?s from your area, one of the best ways to do that is to involve local art. And they helped budget for local artists to be a major part of the museum."

And local artists have been. Painter Becky Cary, in charge bringing the white circus train to life, says the museum represented a rare chance for local artists to work together. "And there?s a feeling here that I think all of us have sort of brought our inner child into this project for the kids."

After all this work by so many adults, the real result is still a few months away, when the museum will find out what the actual children make of it.

Megan Williams, WHQR news