The Santa Fe Children’s Museum closes its doors on Monday, April 18. But don’t worry: It will reopen on May 7, bigger and better than ever. The temporary closure will allow the museum to finish a 3,500-foot expansion designed by Santa Fe architect John Barton. SFR visited with recently hired Executive Director Anna Marie Tutera Manriquez and Deputy Director Jeff Dailey to learn what the expansion means for the city’s most curious and clamorous constituency.
SFR: What the…?!
AMTM: When I started the job in November of 2010, and we looked at this expansion project, I asked if we could find different ways to deal with our storage needs and open up as much space as possible for programs. We’ll be revamping and reimagining all of our exhibits—instead of walking up to a table, you’ll walk up to an experience. We’re also adding two classrooms, a kitchen and an exhibit fabrication and prototype workshop.
JD: When this museum started in 1985, this kind of institution was not part of the cultural vernacular; now, people almost expect there to be a children’s museum wherever they go. There’s a culture of children’s museums now, and you can’t help but compare them. This one stands out. It’s so playful—sometimes, people don’t know how to interface at first but, by the time people leave, they get what we do, which is very different from any other children’s museum I’ve ever been to.
AMTM: There are probably around 300 children’s museums nationally.
Why should I care about this one?
JD: We have to always ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing that’s so great? Where’s the value for the community?’ A building is not great—even one with really cool architecture isn’t going to provide a special service—so we have to always innovate with programs, with exhibits, with everything we do.
AMTM: What’s exciting for me is positioning the children’s museum as a hub for the community and looking at strong institutional partnerships. Nonprofits in Santa Fe should really be working together to complement each other as much as possible—it’s too small a community to compete. So how do we create a continuum in education? How can the children’s museum ready children to participate in art and science programs for teens? How do we ensure that the parents and kids we serve know about the other programs available to them in the community?
So it’s not just an east side hideout for fancy mochaccino moms?
JD: Statistically, our active constituency is less diverse than we’d like it to be. But we’re working on it. Almost all of our staff is bilingual; we have a sponsored membership program for people who can’t afford to pay $5 to come to the museum; and we work with organizations like La Familia [Medical Center] and Las Cumbres [Community Services] to refer families to our programs. With the expansion will come all new signage and exhibit explanations, and all of it will be bilingual…
AMTM: Like with any museum, we are constantly addressing access, inclusivity and diversity. Our location puts us at a geographic disadvantage, but the new expansion is going to help encourage more families to visit us, and we’re always thinking about how to extend our reach—maybe pop-up museums? Museums on wheels? At the end of the day, it’s about providing a welcoming, inclusive space—or spaces—to offer programs that are culturally relevant for families and children of all backgrounds.
How will the new, expanded space help you do all that?
AMTM: You’ll see more early childhood programs suited to a broader range of children and a lot of effort put into new programs for parents and caregivers. We’re also excited to expand programs for 9- to 12-year-olds, like including them in exhibition design and fabrication. We think introducing kids in that range to design and architecture and exhibit planning is going to be very important. We also believe we may be able to turn the fabrication workshop into a community resource when we’re not using it—maybe something that artists and anyone with a project can rent for a small fee.
JD: When people come to the new space, they’ll want to come back again and again. It’s just an amazing place and I’m lucky to be here every day. I mean, really, who doesn’t want to work in a children’s museum? I’ve never met anyone who said, ‘Oh, that must suck.’