Friday, September 21, 2007

Many (Better) Children's Museums, Only One Grant Park

To date, the argument being advanced by Mayor Daley and the Chicago Children's Museum is that the museum is a one-of-a-kind, world-class civic institution committed to serving minority kids. They want to locate in Grant Park so they can remain accessible by public transportation to minority children throughout the city, and anyone who opposes their construction of a 100,000 sq ft facility in Grant Park must be a racist child-hater.

That argument has some big holes in it.

First, as the Sun-Times editorial points out today, the typical visitor to the Chicago Children's Museum (700,000 a year), is a white 6 year-old accompanied by a parent who arrives by car.

Oops. There goes serving minority kids, and there goes the need for public transportation.

And as Sun-Times columnist Delia O'Hara points out today, the Chicago Children's Museum is neither one-of-a-kind or world class:

"The Chicago area has three major children's museums. The DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville and the Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview leave the Chicago museum in the dust."

"the Chicago Children's Museum, which at $8 has the highest non-member admission of the three, plus hefty parking fees on Navy Pier, books one unimaginative commercial traveling exhibit after another, often with licensed characters children are expected to recognize from television."
That's not just O'Hara's opinion. According to Parents Magazine, which ranks children's museums throughout the country, the Chicago Children's Museum ranks 31st in the country, behind not only museums in Boston and New York, but also behind children's museums in Rockford, Bourbonnais and Decatur, Illinois.

The Chicago Children's Museum's 31st place ranking puts it two spots below Waco, Texas and just above Little Rock, Arkansas.

The Association of Children's Museums, to which the Chicago Children's Museum belongs, has 160 museums among its membership across the country, and a quick search of the Internet reveals as many as 300 children's museums in the U.S.

With so many (better) children's museums in the country, the state and the region, and only one Grant Park, why are we even having this debate?

Real Racism

Most of the phony arguments about racism in this debate have been laid bare by local residents, reporters and editorial boards. But the real racism in this case has been ignored.

As O'Hara points out in her column, the Chicago Children's Museum was founded in 1982 in response to cuts to the Chicago Public Schools.

Um, who's fault is it that Chicago's kids need to pay $8 a head to learn basic math skills, art, and play with building blocks?

Another argument advanced by Children's Museum backers is that Grant Park is the only place in the city that's really accessible by public transportation. They actually make a decent point there, but whose fault is it that we have a public transportation system that is adept at moving low-wage workers to and from the city's center, but is terrible at allowing residents to move from one Chicago neighborhood to eat, shop, or visit neighborhood cultural attractions? Why are buses so antiquated, overcrowded, unreliable and infrequent? Why does it take a resident of Uptown nearly an hour to travel by train to the up-and-coming restaurants in Logan Square, or a half hour by bus, when the four mile trip is only 15 minutes by car?

Perhaps CTA head and Children's Museum board member Carole Brown should spend a little less time pointing the finger at Grant Park backers and a little more time working with Mayor Daley to help solve this conundrum, on top of all of the other problems the CTA has.

But to me, the sickest thing about this whole debate was Mayor Daley calling for Chicago's business leaders and religious leaders to rise up in the name of racial equality and fight for a museum in Grant Park.

What the %$#&?

Where was that rally cry for racial equality when we were debating education funding reform in Springfield, Mr. Mayor? Where was that rally cry in the fight for funding public transportation? Where isn't your "moral authority" exerted more appropriately to fight for good paying jobs, or affordable housing? What could be more racist than ignoring or downplaying these problems so that you can help your good friend and political supporter, billionaire heiress Gigi Pritzker have her way?

Oh, the Irony

My favorite, most ironic exhibits at the Chicago Children's Museum:

BIG Backyard
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.

Treehouse Trails
Camp out, climb a tree and explore a cave in this enchanted forest setting. Designed for children ages five and under, Treehouse Trails magically transports the youngest visitors to the great outdoors and encourages them to use their boundless imaginations. Canoe or fish in the pretend blue river; splash in a mountain waterfall; explore the natural landscape; play in an enormous tree house; prepare vegetables from the garden and serve them in the old-fashioned log cabin. Infants can crawl over giant logs and play peek-a-boo with reflective mirrors in the waterless, cushioned Baby Pond.
Oh, the irony of building on an open park so that kids can explore the wonders of nature, visit the great outdoors, and "discover what is like to be part of the city's landscape" three stories underground.

And for those of you who still believe that the Children's Museum is a one-of-a-kind cultural institution that serves Chicago's minority children, check this out:

Birthday Bashes - $350
Amazing art activities, awesome add-ons and affordable party packages make birthdays at Chicago Children's Museum truly memorable! Your guests will celebrate in style in our festive, private party rooms

Birthday Bonanza - $450
Birthday Bash plus your choice of:
Tremendous T-Shirt Party (ages 3+): Great for all ages! Children create their own works of art, which is transferred to high-quality cotton T-shirts (all sizes available) to take home as party favors.
Jazzy Jewelry Party (ages 4+): Fun for girls and boys! Children design beads to create necklaces, bracelets, key chains and other wearable art to take home as party favors.
Fun with Puppets (ages 5+): Put on a puppet show! Children will have the opportunity to create "sock" or "rod" puppets for their enjoyment.
Making Music (ages 5+): What's a party without music! Your child and their friends will design their own musical instruments to take home.

Artabounds Extravaganza - $500
Birthday Bash, plus one of these art adventures:

Painting Party (ages 2+): Children learn how to "foot-paint" in a wacky canvas activity and make colorful hand-painted t-shirts!
Tie-Dye Party (ages 6+): Children tie and dye their own cotton t-shirts to take home as party favors. Tell us the birthday child's favorite colors, and we'll make them available for dyeing fun. This party is especially popular with big kids.

IMAX Adventure - $500
Birthday Bash plus 35 IMAX tickets.


Anonymous,  1:30 PM  

Having that museum in Grant Park might make sense if it had an exhibit which taught the kids, "Becoming the Tyrant of Chicago - the Saga of Richard M. Daley."

Anonymous,  2:12 PM  

Discovery Center in Rockford is phenomenal. I went there with the family and even the adults thoroughly enjoyed it.

I'd love to see the Pritzkers use some of their money, plus corporate and individual donations, to build a world class children's museum in Chicago. This museum could be put in a struggling neighborhood that needs an anchor. Not every draw has to be in or near the Loop.

Anonymous,  10:13 PM  

Daley is king and the new alderman better beware. This is a done deal what daley wants daley gets. Ask the meigs field folks or the city of bennsinvile. Daley decreed it so it will be done city council there a joke.

Anonymous,  5:24 AM  

No, I predict Daley will lose this one. First this and then the next election for sure. What a raving lunatic he has become.

Thanks for pointing out the irony of the Big Backyard and Treehouse trails - I've taken both of my daughters there many times! I've been thinking about how wonderfully expansive and airy and open a design they could make on Meigs Field with lots of sunlight, now that could help make the Chicago Children's Museum be a world-class learning center and one I would take my daughters to frequently. Windy City

Anonymous,  4:55 AM  

Build the museum in Englewood or if you want well behaved middle class kids (read: white) how about Edison Park.

Check out the pension deals with Daley's relatives on the Olympics and Daley's nephew for the children's Museum at

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