April 20, 2011
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum
“You guys have the run of the museum. It’s closed to visitors. All yours.”
This week a small group of WiCM faithful paddled across the East River for a special tour of the world’s oldest kids’ museum, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Our numbers were few, but our exuberance and larger proportional shares of booze more than made up for the modest turnout.
We began the evening with a short discussion with our hosts, curators Carolyn Liv and Beth Alberty. They walked us through the many details that make the BCM unique, from its history to its goals to its exhibit development process. And then they took us on an all access tour of the place.
There was so much to see. Here are my favorites from an evening jam-packed with wonder.
- Cabinet of Marvels – a collection of curios, knick-knacks, and exotic oddities guaranteed to dazzle and delight.
- Light box with shapes – like a Lite-Brite, but for professionals.
- The metal lunch box collection – there are plenty of treats for adult visitors too. Images of Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, The Muppets, and The Secret of Nimh—all etched in relief in small metal lunchboxes—are virtually guaranteed to trigger your nostalgia reflex.
Other assorted hits included a totem pole and a Pacific Northwest Coast plankhouse, African masks, a beading station, a Brazilian boat head with soundscape, an Egyptian bed, a greenhouse, a build-a-bug activity, a Totally Tots mini-museum for the truly little, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…
“World Brooklyn,” an area filled with storefronts showcasing Brooklyn’s own diversity, was a great example of the BCM’s philosophy: start with the familiar and build from there. Visitors could walk into the Chinese bookstore, the Caribbean travel agency, or the Mexican bakery and therein find a unique, interactive educational experience. It was a cool way to bridge the gap from the excitement of a kids’ museum to the potential excitement of everyday life.
There were animal exhibits, a working indoor stream, and a waterfall. And there was a huge snake. Huge. If it lived in the Seventeenth Century, it would have been a HUGE-guenot. Seriously, I have never seen a snake this large. And it was visibly digesting something that probably had also never seen a snake this large.
The place was awesome. Even the building itself was interesting, built in shifting layers and geometries that gave it a dynamic, runnable feel.
One more thing: there were a lot of dead animals in there, enough so that I wondered if one of the curators was secretly a frustrated taxidermist. Like she came from a long line of proud curators and was pushed into curator school when really what she wanted was to express herself through dead fauna. Note for the concerned reader: the animals were tastefully displayed and they will not scare your child. Just be prepared in case you were looking forward to a taxidermy-free day.
Before the impulse to rip free from the field trip manifested, Beth and Carolyn introduced the last part of the tour: the pirate-themed treasure hunt.
I’ve embarrassed myself at WiCM events before. But the recipe of free rein in a kids’ museum, a competitive challenge with a prize denoted as “treasure,” and wine (red and white! Both kinds!) was a formula for personal relations disaster.
Yes, my teammate Melinda LaRose (what a name for a partner in crime, right?) and I reached the end first. Yes, we followed the front-running team until the last clue and outsprinted/outshoved those high-heel-wearing fools right at the end. Yes, we stayed focused on winning even when we heard that Sarah Wallendjack had gone missing in the museum, and even when it occurred to me that the meal the snake was digesting was the approximate size of a WiCM President.
I’m not proud of our means. I’m currently icing sore hamstrings, groggy from the grog (more accurately, whiny from the wine), and suffering from that distinct feeling that I showed a little too much personality last night. But it’s hard to learn a lesson when you’re rewarded with so much stuff. From atop a mountain of BCM swag, it’s easy to think you’re living your life perfectly.
The wrap-up: children’s museums are cool. This was a great one. It offered so many things to see in so many little worlds; to a kid, the backyard is world apart from the basement which is a world apart from the secret hiding space in the closet. A trip to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum brought us all back to that wonderful perspective.
If you missed this event, go to the BCM. Take a kid if you have access to one. Remember that the snake is safely caged and the other animals are beyond their prime. And enjoy a day full of play.