The View from the Eighth Floor: New Madison Children’s Museum Opens August 14

Madison Children's Museum Executive Director Ruth Shelly at the entrance to the Museum rooftop garden; she's backgrounded by the red brick Madison YWCA, which is still being rehabbed. Sorry that I can't wave but thanks for the view (Courtesy: Wisconsin Radio Network)

Last weekend, there was a party. A party across the street from where I live at the now-nearly completed Madison Children’s Museum. The invited guests, I figured, were the donors and patrons and employees of the Museum who were having a pre-opening whoop-dee-do. The lights were definitely on all floors of the building. The building sign had just been hoisted up and installed that Friday. There was the sound of African drumming outside welcoming the would-be silent auction and raffle participants, I noted on my way to Michelangelo’s. (And that drumming could quite possibly propitiate the gods that this was a good thing for Madison.) Nobody looked too rich or too poor, I thought, which was quite right under the economic circumstances, but I didn’t see everybody. I saw streamers and other party decor, a group of blue-vested parking valets who looked almost military in attitude, and on my way back to the Y that night, I heard the band doing a little bit of Fifties and a little bit of Motown before everything quieted down around 10 p.m. All in a good night, I thought.

Of course, I’ve been watching the rebuilding of the Madison Children’s Museum from my eighth floor room through sun and snow. You should see what I see these days on the roof of the building: a two-headed giant metallic bird, what looks like a vegetable and flower garden, a solar-paneled generator, and a chicken coop. Yes, the chickens do come out of the coop at a certain time early in the morning, and peck for their breakfast.

At one point, there was a gold statue of a child perched on the outcropping that looks like the prow of a ship above the entrance of the building. Unexpectedly, though, this golden child brooding over the brink, if not at a book, disappeared after several days. I’m hoping the child reappears somewhere on August 14, rather than be just a donated experiment that somehow didn’t work out.

There’s a white cow with black spots–a cousin of all those Fiberglas bovines that are occasionally display in Mad City, either on State Street or elsewhere–on another roof behind the building. There’s also a log cabin in the rear, too. It’s a kind of playhouse. But the cabin has already been explored, I’ve seen, by kids, parents, and other adults, since last winter.

I haven’t, like the rest of the eagerly awaiting population–child and adult–seen all that is new and exciting about the Museum. At least, not yet. But the view has been rather nice from the eighth floor of my room at the Y. And I am sorry to see the Museum completed, in a way, because it means that I’ll have to find something else to look forward to during the day: to see how the garden progresses, to see the chicken coop being built. Simple things.

Right now, I’ve had to move to the sixth floor. The Y is undergoing several more months of refurbishing, and I’ve had to move downstairs temporarily with the rest of my floor to new accommodations while the eighth floor is fitted with new windows, new toilets, doors, kitchen and common rooms. And etc. Though there is nothing new or enjoyable about moving, I like the newness of where I am. And while I still enjoy the afternoon sun for my houseplants, I’m more in line with the height of the Museum rather than above it, watching some of what is left of the show. However, I’m still on the outside looking in, as Little Anthony once sang.

I’m sure the mothers and children resident at the Y have been able to get a ringside preview of the doings in the Museum. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. And it will be a great day for anyone here and those out-of-towners, one of the last in this rapidly concluding season where it seems Madison has overdone visiting the tropics with steam, rain, and heat.

A couple of Madison TV stations promise to drumbeat the opening, because contrary to its claims to superiority, Madison is really a small Main Street kind of town in outlook. Every little achievement gets trumpeted as yet more proof that Madison is moving on up, to coin a phrase. (As far as I am concerned, the Central Library needs to be torn down and rebuilt, ahead of a certain lakeside hotel project.) San Francisco, though, it’s not. If the Museum even reaches for something like The Exploratorium, even in a small way, it will be well worth its while.

Here’s a preview:

It’s a fantasy world where you can climb through a 1950s three-wheeled car salvaged from a junk yard or through a buoy that once bobbed on Lake Michigan to slide down a dragon’s belly. Or where the very youngest can play global instruments in a hut made of mud and straw while a smaller (and imaginary) version of the Dane County Farmer’s Market takes place nearby.

And almost nowhere in the new Madison Children’s Museum, which opens Saturday, will you find instructions on how things are supposed to be used.

“Essentially there aren’t any rules,” said Ruth Shelly, the museum’s executive director. “We will have lessons built in but we want kids to be kids.”

The new $16.5 million museum, located at 100 N. Hamilton St., will feature a public area more than three times the size of the museum’s former location on State Street.

Because of the cramped quarters on State Street, the museum had focused solely on children up to age 8 but with 26,000 square feet of play space the museum will now cater to children from birth to age 12. Although, adults are just as likely to be wowed by the colorful and creative exhibits made mostly out of recycled or repurposed materials.

“You come into the building and you feel like you’re in Madison – it exudes that feel,” Shelly said. “We want to enhance and reinforce that sense of place.”

When L’Etoile and its downstairs bakery, Café Soleil (now metamorphosed into Graze), left for its new abode at what I call the Glass Palace (a.k.a. the U.S. Bank Building), there was some tut-tutting about the passing of an era while local media oohed. When Madison Market opened across the street from the campus, TV cameras were in the grocery store, showing what items were definitely missing from say, Capitol Centre Market, and having the management hold forth.

So I don’t doubt that the Museum will be on show and promoted like mad during the weekend as yet another acquisition for Capitol Square. School districts will be lining up from out-of-town to bring elementary school kids on field trips, and mothers will contend with each other as to who will bring the strollers and who will drive the van.

I merely hope that the garden will change with more regularity than the displays.

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~ by blksista on August 11, 2010.

One Response to “The View from the Eighth Floor: New Madison Children’s Museum Opens August 14”

  1. Thank you for your flattering and extremely well-written post about the new building! Glad the project has kept you entertained over the last year and we hope you will come visit us soon.

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