Monday, April 14, 2008

In Defense of the Chicago Children's "museum"

Capitolfax took some heat last week for referring to the controversial project in Grant Park as a "museum." I was on an early fishing trip trying to catch the trout while they are running, so let me offer him a little defense.

1. The Chicago Children's "museum" is not accredited by the American Association of Museums.

2. While many argue the "museum" is unique, it is one of only 15 in Illinois, including 9 in the Chicago area.

3. The Chicago Children's "museum" ranks 31st in the country, according to, far behind the children's museums in Decatur & Bourbonnais and The Magic House in St. Louis. Just two slots below the Ollie Mae Moen Discovery Center in Waco, Texas.

4. CapitolFax points to a couple of exhibits that remind him of a McDonald's Playland. When this debate fired up, the "museum" ended its practice of renting out space for $500 birthday parties, so I guess I'll have to stop calling it "Chuck-E-Cheese for Rich People." Still, there's some irony in this permanent exhibit, BIG Backyard (funded by Illinois FIRST):

Art meets technology in BIG Backyard, a wondrous urban garden, filled with enormous insects, giggling flowers, giant toadstools and other fantasy creations that stir the senses and make imaginations bloom. Through innovative technology, you can immerse yourself in the action and discover what it's like to be part of the city's landscape.
Done laughing yet?

Chicago Children's "museum" supporters have bristled lately about comparisons to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. "Chicago's not Indianapolis," they say. That's an understatement. Here's the lowdown on the Children's Museum of Indianapolis:

1. Accredited by the American Association of Museums.
2. Rated #1 by
3. Rated largest and most popular in the U.S., with 1 million visitors per year.
4. Permanent exhibits include:
  • over 10,000 artifacts from around the world, like toys from different cultures,
  • the largest Chihuly glass sculpture in the world,
  • its own planetarium,
  • dinosaur bones galore,
  • its own public library branch, with free laptop computers,
  • an interpretive history of Indy's black community,
  • even their own 185 acre nature preserve where kids can camp.
And...get ready for this....the Children's Museum of Indianapolis is located 6 miles from the city's center, in a predominantly African American neighborhood that's mixed income, where it employs 400 people full and part-time, and generates nearly $60 million a year in economic development.

This debate isn't about race, but it should be. The race of the neighborhoods that the Chicago Children's "museum" refuses to consider - Garfield Park, Logan Square, Bronzeville, Washington Park, Uptown - that have been suggested as alternative locations. Given the success of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, there's every reason to believe a real Museum would be successful in any of those neighborhoods.

FOOTNOTE: It was astounding to here Mayor Daley rant about a lack of school funding in one breath and the need for a "museum" in Grant Park in the next. The "museum" was created by the Junior League to provide private support for education in response to cuts in CPS funding in 1982. But from what I can tell now using a lot of forensic accounting and a little guesswork, they currently get about 20% of their annual revenue from our tax coffers, before you even consider their taxpayer-subsidized free rent of 57,000 sq. ft. at Navy Pier. Now, Da Mayor wants to give them a $90 million plot of land, $1 million a year for 99 years, plus free utilities, legal services and trash pick-up for life at taxpayer expense. That's Daley for ya.


JB Powers 10:11 AM  

Hang on,

I wrote this in 2007 via Lynn Becker's blog.

"The current Chicago Childrens Museum is about as important culturally as the play area at any McDonald's. Soft blocks, racing ducks, and wacky mirrors are not really that educational."

Now I see it in the Tribune, Capital Fax, and elsewhere without proper citation.

I stole that analysis fair and square from my brother, who was disgusted after taking his kids to the lame "children's museum" one Saturday. It was a clean theft, no fingerprints.

One must assume credit from those who do not defend their copyright.


Anonymous,  9:56 AM  

Probably better to put a school in Grant Park. Oh wait, buildings aren't allowed in Grant Park. My bad.

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