Friday, August 19, 2016

INTERVIEW | Omaha Children's Museum

By now I think it is no surprise that my family and I are very interested in discovering new interesting venues that we can take our children to and explore. We often take them to museums and venues like the art center or inspiring playgrounds that have been designed with the purpose of having fun, not only physically but also visually stimulating. 

Today I’d like you to tag along and follow me to the heartland of America, Nebraska and a visit to the Omaha Children’s Museum - an organization who provides children with all of the above and more! We sit down and chat with Michelle Chartrand - Director of Advancement and Matt Orand - Chief Operating Officer.

2016 has been quite a special year for OCM as you are celebrating your 40 year anniversary! Tell me how have you celebrated this monumental achievement and how did it all start back in 1976?

Michelle: The museum had quite a humble beginning back in 1976 and started as a traveling community program that operated out of the back of an old station wagon.  It’s pretty incredible to think that 40 years later we are the most visited museum in the state of Nebraska and serve nearly 300,000 people each year!  We’ve got lots going on to highlight our big anniversary including a big celebration on our official birthday June 25 which will include goodie bags, cupcakes and lots of birthday themed programming for guests that day.

We’ll also be doing a throwback to some of our original events including Sundae Sunday on June 26 which where the museum will have a sundae bar set up outside and will have celebrity scoopers on hand to help cap off our birthday weekend.

OCM is such a visually stimulating place for kids and parents to be, you obviously take a lot of care into the interior design of the museum. Who decides on the design of an exhibit like for instance the Imagination Playground, and what key elements goes into the design to make it visually fun and interesting for the kids exploring it?

Matt: The museum has always put a big emphasis on the look and feel of its exhibits and graphics. We strive to make everything bright, exciting and inviting. Although some of the permanent exhibits that were completed in a previous renovation were designed by an exhibit design firm, all of the recent exhibits, graphics and logos are designed by the museum’s in-house team.

That team includes an Art Director, Traveling Exhibits Coordinator, Exhibits and Facility Director and Graphic Designer.
You have both permanent exhibitions and traveling exhibitions at the museum, how do you choose which ones to make permanent?  

Matt: The incredibly large second floor of the museum that houses our temporary exhibits gives us the opportunity come up with a theme that can be delivered in a completely immersive way. We create two temporary exhibits a year and they have quickly become one of the most popular parts of our visitor’s experiences. The permanent exhibits are grouped into three main thematic areas; The Charlie Campbell Science Center, Creative Arts Center and Imagination Playground. With almost 300,000 visitors annually those exhibits see a lot of use. As they become worn, we look for opportunities to replace them with creative new pieces

And I hear new permanent exhibitions is coming up too? Anything for little train enthusiasts perhaps?

Matt: We are proud to have opened Susie’s Station, an interactive train depot named in honor of Susie Landow. The station includes hidden displays, an interactive train engine, a ticket window, a mysterious moving portrait and magnetic railroad map of the United States. Guests can explore these exhibit pieces as they wait to board the museum’s train ride.

Your last exhibition - The Super Powers was very highly attended and loved by both young and old, what are some of OCM’s favourite exhibitions from the past and what can we look forward to coming up next?

Matt: It would be impossible to pick a favorite. The museum has hosted world-class traveling exhibits like Sesame Street: The Body and LEGO Travel Adventures. It’s also created fully immersive exhibits like Itty-Bitty City, Construction Zone: Return of the Bulldozer and our current exhibit Pirates and Mermaids: Adventure to Creature Cove.

Our fall exhibit, Imagination, will celebrate the museum’s 40 year commitment to the power of play by highlighting and recreating some of our most beloved pieces. For visitors that are eager to find out what’s coming further down the road, we can only offer some hints: They can look forward to more prehistoric beasts, talking trees and some totally awesome pizza-loving heroes.

I have seen some sneak peeks at the OCM’s instagram (@omahachildrenmuseum) page of some of the amazing creatures you will have on your Pirates and Mermaids - Voyage to Creature Cove exhibit, what are some of the attractions parents and kids can explore on this swashbuckling adventure 

Matt: Kids can play on a giant “wave” that gets them close to a twenty foot long prehistoric shark named Chompy. Once on board of our forty foot long pirate ship they can scale the masts climb from bow to stern. As they explore the rest of the watery world, they will encounter a giant octopus, an elasmasoaraus, a giant purple ammonite and a mosasaurus. The exhibit also includes live marine life and tons of interactive programs that happen multiple times per day. Visitors will also want to be on the lookout for one of our many mermaids that hold the secrets of the sea!

I love the initiative of the Omaha Children’s Museum Welcome Fund, can you tell us a little bit about it? 

Michelle: Omaha Children’s Museums Welcome Fund program is 100% donor supported and is designed to share the museum experience with families and children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy our programs and exhibits.  This program allows the museum to offer $5 family memberships to low-income families in the Omaha Metro and to date has about 750 families who utilize this opportunity.

Working at the museum must be the best way to stay young! What is the most rewarding thing about working at the OCM?  

Michelle: There are SO many rewarding things about working at OCM.  One of the best parts of the job is seeing the families that walk thru our doors spend time together and watching kids explore our museum as they learn through play.  Each day is so different here at OCM and its fun to be part of a team that creates exciting, educational and most importantly, fun, exhibits and programs for young children and families. 

Matt: Working at the museum we get to share in the excitement and joy that our young visitors experience every time they walk through the doors. The most rewarding part of working here is being able to offer the unparalleled experience of open-ended imaginative play to thousands of children. Plus, we all get paid to play!

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and letting us peek into the wonderful learning experience that OCM is! A special thank you goes out to Shawn Toovey - the Director of Guest Experience for making this interview possible! 


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