Think of the whimsical music-makers, the dreamers of dreams—Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins. National Children’s Museum CEO Crystal Bowyer should be on that list. The whimsical yet determined believer in young minds is leading the reincarnation and development of the venue’s new space at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
“It’s magical,” says the Georgetown resident, who moved with husband Troy Pierce and now 4-year-old son Preston from Chicago in 2017. “We’re building [it] from the ground up. It’s a rare opportunity.” When it opens in May, the 30,000-square-foot museum will fulfill a need in the area: DC does not have a science and tech center—specifically one for young people. The NCM will educate those up to age 12 via a STEAM approach (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) and rotating exhibits that provide hands-on engagement. Little ones enter via a 50-foot climber and slide. It has one primary entrance and exit, and four points that are wheelchair accessible.
The downstairs exhibition space is open-concept (rooms are separated by color saturation, not walls). Bowyer and her team are also playing with scale: “Ordinary objects will become extraordinary,” she says.
A highlight: the Innovation Sandbox. The digital interactive area will, for the next few years, feature the U.S. premiere of the Weather Worlds exhibit. Participants control the weather (their superpower) to learn environmental science. There’s a data exhibit that showcases the digital cloud. And Nickelodeon is the sponsor of Art With Technology. In one area, kids are transported to SpongeBob SquarePants’ Bikini Bottom to experiment with augmented reality.
Also unique: The museum is being constructed so it can nimbly be updated. “Not only are we reinventing what a children’s museum looks like by combining it with a science center, but we are also [changing] the way museums operate,” Bowyer notes. “We can’t spend... years developing an exhibit. The world changes too quickly now.”
So, what does Preston think? He calls it “my museum,” for one. It’s certainly an indication of the space’s role—to inspire kids to transform the world, says Bowyer. “[They should feel] like they can make a difference individually,” she finishes. “And I want them all to feel that way.”
Bracelet by Armarium; Makeup by Carl Ray; Hair by Daniel Levy, Hair Salon Lounge; shot on location at the National Children’s Museum off Woodrow Wilson Plaza
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