CuriousCity puts call out for exhibit designers

October 15, 2018

CuriousCity puts call out for exhibit designers

Original Article from Salem News
October 15, 2018

CuriousCity puts a call out for exhibit designers

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but city officials are hoping a pop-up children’s museum called CuriousCity can provide proof that a permanent institution could revive the fortunes of downtown Peabody.

This coming spring — March, April and May — the Peabody Leatherworkers Museum and the George Peabody House Museum at 205 Washington St. will be transformed into a temporary children’s museum meant to inspire curiosity and the love of learning in kids ages 2 to 10.

The city is reaching out to local artists to design the exhibits, which will all feature hands-on, play-based themes and elements. To that end, artists and designers were invited last week to meet with the pop-up’s planners and see the exhibit spaces.

The application deadline is Oct. 24, and an exhibit design review committee is expected to select the exhibits by Nov. 30.

The categories for exhibits that organizers are looking for cover: Farm to lunch box, sustainable energy, philanthropy for kids, mindful kids, maker barn, virtual reality, and an open category to allow an artist or designer to propose an exhibit on an additional theme.

In addition, officials are looking for a designer to create a traveling exhibit to help advertise CuriousCity.

The goal is to provide proof that the city could support a children’s museum at the site of the former St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 12 Washington St., which the city purchased in 2016.

The present exhibits and furnishings in the George Peabody House, which is the birthplace of philanthropist and financier George Peabody, and at the adjacent Leatherworkers Museum will be removed from both buildings to make way for the pop-up museum.

The maker barn exhibits will be housed in the barn that makes up the Leatherworkers Museum. Six rooms in the George Peabody House will also have exhibits.

“The idea is that the artifacts and the exhibits that are currently in this building and in that one will be boxed up and stored to make sure they aren’t damaged in any way,” said Peabody Institute Library Director Melissa Robinson, who is heading up CuriousCity, on Thursday during one of the site visits at the Washington Street museums.

Robinson noted the inspiration for creating a children’s museum in Peabody comes from the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover, New Hampshire.

“Dover brought this children’s museum to their downtown,” she said, “and it really revitalized (the area), and more restaurants and other child-friendly businesses, toy stores and stuff… It’s been a real boon to their downtown. The mayor took a group of city people and business leaders up there a few years ago,” she added, “and they said: ‘We should do that here.’”

That museum’s website says it attracts $1.8 million to $2.3 million “of positive economic impact to the area, every year.”

In New Hampshire, there was already an existing children’s museum that was looking for a new home. The museum had been in Portsmouth for 25 years before moving to Dover 10 years ago. Peabody, on the other hand, will have to start from scratch.

On Thursday, an artist who was a former teacher came to check out the spaces, according to Robinson, who liked that the artist had a background in education.

“Kids learn by playing,” Robinson said, “but you can tailor those play experiences in specific ways if you have the right knowledge and background.”

“I’m very much in support,” said Dick St. Pierre, the curator of the two Washington Street museums, and a former teacher and librarian. He’s also president of the Peabody Historical Society.

“It is giving up some of our mission for three months but, on the other hand, it’s a way, I think, to generate a lot of visitation down the road,” St. Pierre said. “I think if the kids can come and see it, that’s a betterment.”

Robinson said they are thinking about creating an exhibit around philanthropy as seen through the lens of George Peabody’s life, an exhibit that would be designed to explain why he was so important to the city, while perhaps sneaking in some math education.

“And hopefully with something hands-on and interactive, we would be able to leave it behind if (St. Pierre) enjoys having it here so that when all the third-graders in the city come through, there is something new and different for them to do and play,” Robinson said, referring to the annual essay contest at the George Peabody House.

An educational exhibit would also be a way to honor George Peabody’s legacy. Peabody, who lived from 1795 to 1869, felt education was important, having himself been deprived of all but a rudimentary one growing up.

One of his most popular sayings is: “Education: a debt due from present to future generations.”

The pop-up children’s museum is spearheaded by the Peabody Cultural Collaborative, the city, Salem Five, and community partners including the two museums, the Peabody Institute Library, Northeast Arc, Peabody TV, the Essex Agricultural Society, Citizens Inn, Eastern Bank, Peabody Main Streets, Boston Children’s Hospital and others.

At the end of the pop-up’s run, the exhibits will get permanent homes in libraries, schools, and businesses in Essex County.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.

Artists and designers interested in applying to build a CuriousCity exhibit can find a copy of the call for proposals application on the city’s website: