This afternoon I had the pleasure of having lunch with Douglas Love, Explore & More Children’s Museum’s new CEO. It was so nice to hear firsthand about the future of the museum, and its context within the Buffalo framework. Before we even got very far, Douglas made sure to express his excitement for the museum’s upcoming Touch a Truck event, which will be held at Canalside for the first time ever.
The news of the event prompted Mayor Brown to declare Sunday, June 5 ‘City-Wide Day of Play’. The Mayor also put up some funding so that the first 100 kids (with a parent) could get in for free. Since that time, additional underwriting has now brought that tally up to 1000 kids. Neighborhood organizations will be handing out free passes (and free bus tokens) to underserved communities to ensure that the event is inclusive in nature. Aside for the kids being able to crawl over some of the coolest trucks in town, there will be ancillary activities such as a pinewood derby track to keep the kids occupied. This is an event that you and your family will not want to miss. It’s also a major build-up to the excitement of having one of the most unique children museums in the world right smack dab on Buffalo’s waterfront.
Did you know that Buffalo is the only city of its size without a children’s museum? That’s right. But if you ask me if I’m upset about it, I’m not. Why? Because by waiting until this juncture along the Buffalo timeline, the stars have finally aligned for this cultural advancement to occur. According to Love, it’s a confluence of the right project, at the right time, in the right city. I would add to that that we’ve got the right guy for the job. “This is going to be a very unique museum,” said Love. “There’s no other museum out there like it. There is no commercialism – it’s very inclusive, space based, and centric to Buffalo. This was an opportunity that I could not pass up. This is the way that children’s museums should be designed, to reflect the cities where they are located, especially in Buffalo’s case. Museums in other cities are generic for the most part. This museum will be anything but generic. It’s also going to be a regional attraction, drawing families to the heart of Buffalo to experience something that is on the cutting edge of children’s museums.”
Love and I agreed that most kids are growing up without the play tools that they need to truly thrive in life. “Don’t touch that… don’t do that… put that down… you’re going to hurt yourself!” Helicopter parents are creating kids that have no sense of adventure. The new children’s museum plans on changing all that. Seven educational play zones will all deal with interactive elements designed to teach kids about the city where they live. For example, there’s going to be a two-storey waterfall with a lock system that demonstrates how boats travel through the Erie Canal. The waterfall will have a power wheel that will generate electricity. Another cool exhibit include replicas of the grain silos and other Buffalo inventions. One particular interactive display will have ice bikes that the children can pedal, that will power actual turbines… all very Buffalo centric, but fun for any youngster eager to learn about the ways of fascinating, revolutionary and practical inventions. Another exhibit will cleverly demonstrate the types of people who live in Buffalo, in an actual neighborhood setting. Children will be able to walk inside houses and learn about other cultures. “This evens the playing field for everybody,” stated Love. “Children will see themselves represented in the exhibits. There’s even going to be an interactive relief map of Buffalo that shows the city and how houses were built… kids will be able to help construct houses by actually picking up real tools. This is not passive. They will learn how to build.”
After lunch, I took Love over to see the world’s oldest operational fire boat, the EM Cotter. It was during the visit that I truly came to understand his passion for kids and the importance that he puts on having ‘a sense of place’. We were lucky enough to tour the boat, which was pretty sensational. “I would love to figure out a way to incorporate this experience into the museum,” he said. “This is very specific to Buffalo and should be celebrated. Kids… families would love to see this.” Maybe next year we might see “Touch a Boat” come to fruition?
Love is all about connecting with the community. Whether it’s with other culturals, grassroots organizations, museums, what have you… the man wants Explore & More to be a lightning rod for helping to energize the city. He feels that there are common synergies between these various groups, and is a firm believer in power in numbers. “It is anticipated that the children’s museum will bring $90 million to Canalside, over the admission costs, in the next ten years,” Love noted. “That says a lot about the impact that we will have on the city. The more we all work together, the better it will be.”
Just before we parted ways, as we were walking the Shoreline Trail, Love pointed to the sky and said, “Look at those kites! Do we have a kite festival here?” I told him that there were rumblings of a kite festival, but nothing major. “We could help with that in some way… kids love kites,” he declared. To me, that pretty much said it all. Love wants to make Buffalo a happening place, by simply bringing joy to the people who live here, and who visit. The guy’s got a ton of credentials, and should be instrumental in bringing a creative thought process to this city that will benefit Buffalo for years to come.