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Picassos at Play

Chaos surrounds me. High pitched squeals, bursts of laughter, little hands pushing against the backs of my knees and kids jumping up and down like they’ve just downed straight Kool-Aid powder. I’m standing in the middle of the newly opened Creative Kids Museum, and clearly, it’s a hit.

The museum opened this past October after six years of research and planning, and is the only children’s museum dedicated solely to creative arts in the country. The idea came to founder Krista Schlosser after she and her two kids visited the children’s museum in London, Ontario. “I was amazed at the idea of having a space where so much learning could occur,” she says, adding that she knew arts were a vital part of children’s development. “They foster creative thinking. Also, many studies have shown that early involvement in the arts encourages children to be more tolerant, feel more self-confident and perform better in other academic areas.”

During my visit, I’m shown the five permanent exhibits that make up the museum: “Perception”; “Mindscapes”; “Sound and Music”; “Scribble Dee Dee”; and “Theatre.” Each are designed to inspire and cultivate creative energies, while providing an environment for learning—though the idea is that they’ll be having too much fun to notice. This is the driving force behind the entire museum, Schlosser explains: to learn through play.

The most popular zone is rumoured to be the lip sync area in “Sound and Music.” Intrigued, I walk over and hear Blondie’s “Call Me” pumping out of a set of speakers. There’s a miniature stage where a row of little girls act as back-up dancers to a blonde Harry Potter-like boy in the front. Though he’s singing and strumming a toy guitar into the stand-up microphone, he appears at once awkward, yet happy. Darrell Nielsen’s his name, he’s seven, and when he grows up he wants to be in a rock band, he tells me in a voice so quiet I must kneel down to hear him. He pushes his glasses a little higher up on his nose and says that he’s learning to play the guitar at home. His mom leans over and whispers to me that she’s surprised, he’s normally incredibly shy. “What do you like most about the museum so far?” I ask. He grins, “I’m having fun!”

Helping kids excel in comfort zones, or to discover something new was part of Schlosser’s vision: “I imagined an area where they could just go and play and maybe realize ‘hey, I love being on stage’.” For children who aren’t ready to come out of their shell, there are themed nooks throughout the museum, allowing them to explore without feeling self-conscious.

Next, I visit Scribble Dee Dee, an area where kids can be as messy as they want—paint on walls, build sculptures out of random household items, use glitter, glue, construction paper and fabric scraps to create works of art. In the middle of the sculpture area, seven-year-old Sam Hickling and ten-year-old sister Sarah sit holding a piece of plastic pipe joining two pieces of hose. The bottom end of one hose sits inside of a mug. I ask what they’re creating. “A coffee and marshmallow machine,” Sam announces showing me how it works. “First you put the stuff in here,” he explains pointing to the top end of the hose, “then it comes down through here (the pipe) till it gets to the bottom.” Sarah chimes in, “The perfect cup of hot chocolate!” This is Sam’s second time to the museum in less than a week.

The museum has certainly been deemed a success, with Schlosser receiving many accolades for her persistence and vision. Already it’s become a community resource, with schools using the facility to complement curriculums. But it wasn’t an easy project to get off the ground. “There’s always a bit of resistance whenever something new is proposed that costs a fair bit of money,” Schlosser explains. Back in 2000, she knew she needed help, and called upon Carol May and Tim Watkins, award-winning children’s museum artists from New York, to help design and sketch out her vision. She presented the concept to teachers, artists, businessmen and politicians, and in 2004 she had gathered enough support to get started. Schlosser then approached the Telus World of Science to try and form a partnership. Chief Executive Officer Bill Peters quickly agreed, excited by the idea of giving children the opportunity to explore both science and arts in one space.

On my way out of the museum, I walk through an enclosed tunnel with geometric-shaped pads on the floor that light up and make sounds as you step on them. A knee-high girl with pig-tails jumps between them, careful not to touch the carpet. Minutes later a mother follows, equally enjoying stomping on the pads. She is so wrapped up in her own world, that when she realizes she is not alone, she looks up sheepishly and laughs, “I think I’m having more fun than the kids.” I smile back, because secretly, I can totally relate with her.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Creative Kids Museum officially opened Oct 14, 2006:
• The 1st solely arts-based museum for children in Canada
• Located on 11,200 square feet added adjacent to the Telus World of Science. Approximately 8,000 square feet is devoted to exhibition space.
• Cost $3 million
• Last year saw 263,000 visitors (Telus World of Science & Creative Kids combined)

MINI MASTERS
Wolfgang Mozart – At the age of three he started playing the piano; he composed his first symphony at age eight.
Tatum O’Neal – Won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at age nine for the movie Paper Moon (the youngest person to ever win a non-honourary Academy Award).
Thomas Chatterton – Composed poems at the age of 12 that would later make him admired by the likes of Lord Byron and John Keats.
Pablo Picasso – Painted his well-known The Picador when he was eight.
Okita Soji – Prodigy of kenjutsu (Japanese martial art using the sword). He defeated an adult kenjutsu master at the age of 12.—Laura Pellerine

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