Portland, OR

Children and Parents Mourn the Loss of Portland Children's Museum After 75 Years

Rose Bak

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After 75 years of bringing joy to millions of children, the Portland Children’s Museum announced yesterday that it will be closing permanently.

The Portland Children’s Museum was dedicated to making learning fun for kids of all ages. Inspired by the early childhood schools of Reggio Emilia in Italy, the museum used “inquiry-based learning strategies” which assumed that all children are intelligent, creative, and resourceful.

The museum website shared its approach:

“We’re a museum that doesn’t act like a museum because our audience—children and the adults who care for them—is more important to us than anything we collect. Indeed, our audience is the essential component that gives our exhibits meaning. Instead of investing in precious objects, we use familiar materials to craft priceless opportunities for children to learn through play.”

The museum featured both rotating and permanent exhibits, many designed with feedback from children. Everything in the museum was designed for hands-on learning from clay studios to science exhibits to cultural learning opportunities.

The museum was also unique in that it was the only children’s museum in North America that also included a research center, on-site preschool, and a charter school.

Unfortunately, that play is coming to an end as of June 30th of this year. On March 25th, the board of directors of the Portland Children’s Museum and the co-located Opal School voted to dissolve both organizations.

Like so many things in the community, this decision was a result of “devastating attendance and revenue losses” from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Portland Children’s Museum was funded almost completely on paid admissions to the interactive museum.

When the pandemic hit, they were forced to close and 48 staff people were laid off.

The museum searched for alternate sources of revenue, including looking for ways to make the exhibits mobile and investigating digital options, but it was not enough. In a statement the board of directors reported:

“Ultimately, these options were not financially viable and would have mandated a substantial, long-term investment without the revenue to support the organization. We’ve all experienced so many wonderful memories at the Museum with our loved ones, and we are forever grateful to the vibrant community of play that the Museum and Opal School have cultivated during these last 75 years. Portland Children's Museum's lasting impact will live on through the creativity of countless families, children, educators, artists, and musicians who called the Museum and Opal School their second home.”

Even with limited re-opening happening now and most of the population in Oregon eligible to receive vaccines by May 1st, it’s not enough to sustain the robust programming that the museum has been known for. The museum has heard feedback from both staff and parents who express concern about the ability to maintain social distancing and safety protocols with groups of small children using displays that were intentionally designed to be interactive.

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The year before the pandemic hit the museum hosted 250,000 visitors. All told, the Portland Children’s Museum welcomed an estimated 4.8 million visitors during its 75 years offering fun learning experiences for Portland’s youth. Many visitors reported visiting the museum as kids and now returning with their own children and grandchildren.

Social media lit up with parents saddened by the news, and childhood development experts called the loss devastating and with long-lasting impacts.

“Children’s museums across the country are reporting average losses of more than 70% of the income they had received in years past, and relief from public sources has not been adequate to relieve the impacts of the pandemic on cultural institutions,” Laura Huerta Migus, the executive director of the Association of Children’s Museums, said in a statement. “The closure of a children’s museum is devastating to the social fabric of a community, and the loss of Portland Children’s Museum will be felt for years to come.”

As the Portland Children’s Museum works to vacate its space, they will be working with “mission-aligned” nonprofits in the community to share reusable assets.

#portland #oregon #children #museum #school

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR
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