Peabody’s next pop-up: A children’s museum

August 6, 2018

CuriousCity Announces Location

Original Article from Salem News
August 6, 2018


Peabody’s next pop-up: A children’s museum

PEABODY — The pop-up concept has proven to be wildly successful with everything else, so why not a children’s museum?

“We’ve become pop-up Peabody,” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt. And the mix of pubs, dinners, markets and other events have all worked to draw more people downtown, he said, and generate interest and commerce in the heart of the city.

Now city officials and business people are taking the same approach to a vision Bettencourt first shared a few years ago of having his hometown host a North Shore children’s museum.

The goal is to generate interest and support for a permanent museum by creating a scaled-down version with a handful of interactive exhibits for a few months, preferably somewhere in the downtown. It will be indoors, though.

“I think it’s going to be really exciting,” said Melissa Robinson, director of the Peabody Institute Library, who is spearheading the pop-up effort.

She said this museum will debut next spring or summer, last about three months in a location still to be determined, and will be designed in collaboration with other local organizations. Those partners — Peabody Access Telecommunications,  Northeast Arc, Citizens Inn and others — will work with local artists on specific exhibits. It will all be geared to engage kids from 2 to 10 years old and their families.

She noted that Peabody Main Streets — a local business organization — has had a lot of success with its pop-up events. The Arc’s Breaking Grounds cafe on Main Street, for example, is an offshoot of those efforts.

Robinson, who is a member of the nonprofit Peabody Cultural Collaborative and a few others attended a conference recently about creative placemaking. They put the question to themselves: “What if we did it as a pop-up, to generate interest, to show people it can work?”

Robinson applied for a grant from the Essex County Community Foundation, and last week the news came through that the PCC had won $28,000 for CuriousCity: A Pop-Up Children’s Museum.

One of the requirements for the grant is to have three local partners, which will be the city, Salem Five Bank and the Peabody Cultural Collaborative.

‘The right fit’

“I always hoped to create another attraction downtown,” said Bettencourt, “and I think a children’s museum might be the right fit for us.

“(The pop-up) would be a good test case for us,” he said. “If it’s successful like I think it can be, maybe we look at doing it again as a pop-up and, or look at a long-term museum.”

Robinson noted that while there are museums in the region that have activities for kids, Essex County doesn’t have its own museum dedicated to that purpose.

Anyone who doesn’t want to trek into Boston has to drive to Acton, Worcester or North Easton for a children’s museum in Massachusetts, or else to Dover, New Hampshire, or down to Providence.

“The key is to have play-based exhibits,” said Robinson.

They already have a working list of ideas for the pop-up, one of which is handcrafted puppet theater to allow kids to act out folk tales from around the world. It would be based on the different cultures already represented in Peabody, she said.

Another idea is a mindfulness exhibit that incorporates yoga, and another one for sensory exhibits.

The Topsfield Fair, which has signed on as a local partner, is working on an exhibit for farm-to-lunch box, Robinson said. North Shore Youth Build will help with an exhibit on construction, and PATV is doing one on virtual reality.

Robinson and Community Development Director Curt Bellavance said they’re in talks with some downtown property owners for temporary space. In addition to the grant, Robinson anticipates they will need at least another $30,000 to cover artists’ fees, rent and staffing when the museum opens. They will be looking for more grants and sponsorships, she said, and will charge admission fees.


A permanent museum?

As for that bigger and better location, the city is still looking at the former St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Washington Street, which it purchased in 2016. The city hired the firm Pinck & Co. to evaluate the possibility of renovating the building for a museum, and that report is expected back in the next few weeks.

Bellavance confirmed the initial ballpark estimate on repairs is close to the $1.2 million that is tucked into an economic development bill the Legislature just approved, but the building will likely need a new roof, heating and ventilation system, and various other major upgrades.

“It is a terrific space,” said the mayor. “I do believe it fits in nicely with the vision for a children’s museum, but we really need to get a handle on the costs first. There’s a lot of utility, infrastructure and fire safety work.”

He said once those fixed costs are in hand, he will talk with his department heads and the City Council on next steps.

“I would expect it to cost a lot more than $1.2 million,” he said.

Bettencourt said he hopes to model a permanent museum around the one in Dover, New Hampshire. He, Deanne Healey and a couple of others involved in the project took a trip there in 2015 to brainstorm ideas. 

“It’s not a huge building,” he said. “There’s some larger, open space, but then it’s broken off into smaller classrooms and exhibits.” That could be recreated in downtown Peabody, he said, and maybe tie into some programs and attractions that Salem has.

Robinson’s enthusiasm for a museum is fueled not only by her profession — she says it could create great literacy opportunities — but by being a parent of young children.

“I would love to see more things for families in the area,” she said.