By Chris Catanzaro:
The recent Canalside buzz has brought some well-deserved attention to The Explore & More Children’s Museum. Their recent programming in downtown Buffalo brought droves of children down to their interactive centers of play. One might think that this is a museum of play and activity spawned over night. When, in fact, it is actually a bustling program derived from a grassroots effort in East Aurora since 1994. I had a chance to sit down with Barbara Park Leggett, program director, of Explore and More.
Ms. Legett was kind enough to take us through the years of Explore & More, which she says was started by a group of folks looking to create an interactive learning environment that prioritized play. Ms. Legett also emphasized that the museum strives to enrich the learning and socialization skills of children and a connection to their families.
The original Explore & More started in the basement of a local church in 1994, with a space of 1,000 sq. ft. and a yearly visitor total of about 1500. The museum was then moved to a larger space, to its current location on Gleed Avenue in East Aurora, in 1998. The new space is 5,000 sq. ft. and allows for offices, storage and, of course, play areas. Their current visitor total has greatly risen to about 40,000 in a year. Ms. Legett hinted that they may now be outgrowing their space once again, but more on that later.
Besides the incorporation of successful programming at Canalside in Buffalo (not to mention a stint at various festivals like the Buffalo Wingfest), Ms. Legett is extremely proud of Explore and More’s extension into Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries, as well as Buffalo’s public elementary schools. She also added that the museum also extends into various rural communities in search of additional developmental play opportunities for children. There was a real sense of duty and ownership as Ms. Legett explained the need to reach all children deserving of a great interactive play experience. She also noted that the museum works closely with WIC on a Free Admission Fund for Families.
As the two of us waxed philosophical about Buffalo, the subject of moving the museum into the city limits became a central topic. Ms. Legett noted that a Long Term Location Committee has been established to look at various sites and possibilities for a facility in the area of 25,000 sq. ft. with a continued focus on interactive play. The committee’s intent is to grow the children’s museum, so as to engage many more families in the “museum” setting. There seems to be no better way to alleviate someone’s fears of the large, intimidating museum than to encapsulate them with play. The conversation eventually led to the waterfront as a destination and Ms. Legett could only comment that “the location has been discussed.” One can only hope that children’s museum waterfront talks move forward, with a possible collaboration with say, the bike museum or a weather museum. By the way, Ms. Legett stated that the museum feels very strongly’ about collaborations.
On the way out of the museum I was given a last look at some incredible recreations of historic Buffalo buildings such as The Central terminal. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to play with small scale models, and then walk out the door to see the actual structures front and center? Maybe someday it can become a reality. Until then be sure to check out all the Explore & More happenings, www.exploreandmore.org.