It’s been a decade since the Children’s Museum of Phoenix opened its doors in the former Monroe School in downtown Phoenix, offering hands-on play, art and exploration to ages 10 and younger.
The museum welcomes about 350,000 visitors annually, employs 50 full-time staff and nearly as many seasonally, and has been called one of America’s 10 best children’s museums by Reader’s Digest. Here, kids can build forts, shop in a “supermarket,” run through a “forest” of pool noodles, paint a giant robot and spend summers and breaks in a popular camp program. Recently, the museum expanded its art studio and created a KIDchen and working outdoor garden. There is still room to grow in the majestic 1913 school building that boasts alumni including abstract painter Jackson Pollock.
In June and July, the museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. On Thursday, June 14, the museum hosts its Big Birthday Bash with treats, entertainment and character appearances — included with $12 admission. We asked founding member and CEO Kate Wells to share more about future plans, exhibits and fun.
What are some of the “don’t miss” attractions for families? The Climber. You really can’t miss it since it’s the first thing you see when you enter. It’s our iconic three-story structure that mimics a crazy kind of treehouse that kids have a blast in. Also, our Art Studio, which is just a beautiful space and bustles with creativity, color and imagination. And definitely, families should not miss our brand new KIDchen, where we provide cooking programs for little ones and their grown-ups.
What’s the new area behind the noodle forest? This should open by summer. It will be a performance space complete with stage, costumes and puppets, where kids will be able to star in their own shows. It will be full of imagination, creativity and fun, and will encourage kids to play together in telling stories.
What exhibits are you hoping to add? We have about 20,000 square feet [for future growth]. We have an exhibits committee that’s always coming up with exciting ideas. One idea is a bigger Maker Space where kids will be able to create things out of found objects and materials. We have a smaller-scale version of this currently in our Art Studio, and it’s a huge hit.
What’s your future vision for the museum? To continue to provide an epic experience for our visitors. To grow our annual visitation to over half a million. To create an endowment to help us grow even more. To fill those empty spaces with new and exciting experiences for children and their families. And to continue creating programs that focus on early childhood education and school readiness through the hard work of our own education team as well as collaborations with community partners.
What’s been the biggest challenge? Making sure that all children in our community have the opportunity to come and play regardless of their ability to pay. We do this by giving out over 50,000 free or reduced admission passes annually. We really do want every child to be exposed to the rich learning environment that we provide. Thankfully, we have many generous supporters who donate to our Every Child Program.
What’s the best part of your job? Hands down —the visitors. Especially the children. I get to come into work every single day and see children engaging with the world around them in the most imaginative, creative and joyful ways. And hearing children’s laughter through our office doors always puts a smile on my face, regardless of the type of day I may be having. It reminds me why we do what we do every day.