On Sept. 21, the Santa Fe Children’s Museum launched Home, a new interactive exhibit focused on teaching kids about Chinese, Japanese and Hmong cultures. As a member of the Association of Children’s Museums, Santa Fe’s museum applied for and received a grant from the Freeman Foundation Asian Culture Exhibit Series to create the exhibit, which will be on display for the next six months ($7-$10, 1050 Old Pecos Trail, (505) 989-8359). As the exhibit closes out its first week, we caught up with the museum’s Executive Director Hannah Hausman to learn more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What will the experience be like for a child who visits?
This exhibit is designed for children and families to examine the insides and outsides of Chinese, Japanese and Hmong homes. It has a focus on cooking and food and gardening and play for each culture so children can then play in those environments and see what that would be like, whether they’re growing plants on a Beijing balcony or crossing over a koi pond or creating origami or telling a story. Then we have a cooking area, and the reason that’s important for us is because we do a lot of cooking and gardening at the Children’s Museum. We have an acre-plus outdoor space, and although it’s under renovation right now—which is actually exciting—that area has a really large garden in it. The kids are really used to going out there and learning how gardens work, how to harvest and how to cook from your garden, so we thought this really correlated well with what we do.
What sparked your interest in this particular grant, and why was it so important for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum to have an exhibit like this?
I think it’s important to broaden everyone’s horizons when it comes to culture. This was an area that I thought was important, too. I mean, any area of culture is important to educate families on, but when something pops up like this that is so unique that you might not see in a place like the Southwest or New Mexico, I thought it was important to educate our families on these specific places. Bringing an international city to a small museum like Santa Fe, meaning like, bringing a home in China here, I think, is a really unique experience for a child to be able to be hands-on with it. Our mission is discovering the joys of learning, play and community. In essence, what that means is we really look at play and how you learn through play.
You know, the other culture piece, I think, is that a lot of times people have misconceptions about certain cultures. I was just speaking to a family member yesterday that came to the opening, and he’s like, ‘I’m from Korea. A lot of times people forget that we’re all from different regions, and we share different traditions.’ Especially with the Hmong culture, that’s why I think they chose that particular city, because I think there is a lot of misconception sometimes that happens with people. I’ve had a few families come in and be really appreciative that the exhibit is showing children and families a different part of the world and they can learn about it in such an open way. That was important to me, just that we have that.
As a museum that is almost 40 years old now, what would you say is the secret to keeping it alive and still bringing fresh exhibits?
That’s a really good question. Well, I can’t believe we’re almost 40. You know, I see us as a community treasure and an anchor here in the Santa Fe community, but we also serve a lot of Northern New Mexico and even beyond because we have a lot of tourists that come and visit us, and children’s museums really serve an important purpose in every community...There’s not a museum like us in this region that can do what we do, which is informal learning for the early childhood community. There may be things going on at school and at home that are equally as important but then you look at play and the development that’s happening from zero to 5, there’s some real work going on there. You probably remember yourself what your favorite thing to do as a kid was. A lot of times people say you know, climbing a tree or Legos. A lot of it is related back to that play and what that did for them and how it helps them grow. So, the long term for us is growing future artists, future engineers, future scientists and future kind people who understand all of the humanities. So, there’s a lot of important work happening here at our museum and others too.