"If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
- Shel Silverstein, Invitation
These words are currently chalked in flowery script on the walkway leading into the Glazer Children's Museum. Hundreds of families had the chance to read this classic Silverstein poem on Saturday afternoon because, as luck would have it, the line to get into the museum curved right past it.
And that line was long. Bay area families – and some from much farther away – descended on the Glazer Children's Museum on Saturday for its long-awaited grand opening. Fortunately, the line moved swiftly and, because the public response was so overwhelming, the museum actually opened its doors 30 minutes earlier than planned to accommodate its visitors.
And indeed, inside was 53,000 square feet of exhibits that allowed children of all ages to dream, to wish, to pretend and to spin their own tales. The Glazer Children's Museum is now open for everyone, and the Bay area community is just beginning to discover what a wonderful gift it is.
The lines may not always be as long as they were on Saturday, but the museum is sure to become a repeat destination for local families and out-of-town visitors as well. Glazer Children's Museum CEO Al Najjar stood on the building's second level not long after the doors were open on Saturday, children streaming around him in all directions, and beamed as he saw the museum's vision coming to life.
"If I see the same family come back three or four times, and every time they leave the kids are screaming that they don't want to leave, that's a great success," said Najjar. "I want kids to come out of here and ask more questions because they want to learn more, they want to be engineers and scientists and thinkers and poets and artists. I think that's the ultimate goal that we want to achieve."
Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, co-president of the Glazer Family Foundation, which started the museum-construction process with the signature donation of $5,000,000, felt the same sense of anticipation on Saturday morning as the families who woke up knowing exactly what they were going to do with the weekend.
"We're just so excited," said Glazer Kassewitz. "We woke up this morning and we knew we were going to spend the day in the children's museum, and what greater day is there than that? I think if a child comes here and uncovers his or her own great strength, and learns more about themselves and what they can become, that is an amazing way to touch children in the community."
The day actually began with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9:30 a.m., attended by Glazer Kassewitz and many members of her family, including Bryan Glazer, Joel Glazer, Ed and Shari Glazer and Kevin and Rachel Glazer. The Glazer families brought their children, as did a handful of donors and project supporters, and the kids held up a museum banner behind the podium during the ceremony. Glazer Kassewitz spoke at the ceremony, as did Museum Chairperson of the Board Sandy Murman, Hillsborough County Chairman Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
"On behalf of my entire family, some of whom are here today, we are so proud to be a part of this new cultural landscape of Tampa," said Glazer Kassewitz. "We are all about family and we know you are too, so let's just have a great day and have everyone enjoy themselves. What a great day this is."
The ceremony was brief because, as she noted, the children were very eager to invade the museum. But before the ribbon was cut, Mayor Iorio offered her view of why the Glazer Children's Museum was such a vital addition to downtown Tampa.
"This morning I took a walk through the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, and I want to share with you what I saw," said Iorio. "There was a group of people playing soccer. There were rowers going down the Hillsborough River. There were people taking their dogs to the dog park around the bend. And there were children playing with their parents on the playground.
"I stepped back and I walked to the other side and took in a view of the new Glazer Children's Museum next to the new Tampa Museum of Art, all part of the new Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, with the fountains on and people playing and enjoying. I thought to myself, this is what the people of our community deserve. This is their park, these are their museums. This is the time when everything's come together and people can have an urban experience which all big cities have and we have lacked until now. And now we have it. We have a space that everyone can call their own, where families can gather and people can enjoy in all different ways, and it's all been designed beautifully."
The children at the ceremony were allowed into the museum at about 9:40, and the doors were due to open to the public at noon. As mentioned, however, the anticipation among Bay area residents was so strong that museum administrators didn't want to keep them waiting. By the time the planned opening time arrived, the museum's 175 exhibits were already crawling with excited children.
Visitors were handed helpful maps of the museum by volunteers just inside the door. There were dozens of additional volunteers stationed around the museum, helping the families learn how to get the most out of the various exhibits. One young boy, for instance, was delighted when a volunteer tapped him on the shoulder and told him to look up, where a train had begun scooting around a suspended track due to the commands the boy had tapped into the monitor below.
For the most part, however, little explanation was needed and the kids just dived in. The first section the visitors discovered on the ground floor was Kidsport, a water-themed series of exhibits that could be controlled by the kids in a variety of ways. Boys and girls changed barriers to open new waterways for ships and balls, made waves with special pushers and guided boats through a narrow channel on a monitor.
A flight of stairs took the kids to a whole new world on the second floor, and intertwined within those steps was an elaborate and netted climbing area that proved intensely popular (though the moms and dads who followed their kids in sometimes came out huffing and puffing). Upstairs was a myriad of journeys waiting to happen, whether it was in the Engineers' Workshop, the Art Smart exhibit or the My House Your House home-living experience. A smiling Gerald McCoy figure greeted kids at the entrance to the sports-themed Get Moving area, where visitors could climb a rock wall, jump around or take a break and read in the book corner. Six-year-old Bryana Josie Richardson couldn't get enough of the Get Moving section, flinging herself at the rock wall and the other exhibits over and over.
Bryana wasn't alone. She met up with several of her school friends from Hudson, Florida, to get a taste of the museum on its opening day. Her mom, Melissa Marchese, helped organize the group outing and knew immediately that she and her friends had made a good choice for this particular Saturday afternoon.
"It's so kid-friendly, and for the parents too," said Marchese. "All the kids are having a great time and loving it. We can spend the day here and it's indoors, so if it rains or it's hot out it's a great place for the kids and their friends to meet here. They learn more from hands-on. Rather than other people doing it, they're doing it themselves. That's what they love about it. She's having so much fan and we're having fun, too."
As Bryana and her friends discovered, the museum was designed to be highly interactive. It is a combination of permanent and traveling exhibits and it also offers comprehensive year-round programs and special events that provide children, parents, caregivers and teachers a rich and ever-changing environment for playful learning.
The exhibits have so much variety in topics as well as in the level of complexity," said Najjar. "Some of them are really for younger kids, some are for the older kids. So they gravitate to one exhibit or another. Well, first they run around trying to see everything at once, but then they find one they like and stick with it for awhile."
The exhibits are designed to engage children up to the age of 10, and there was certainly a wide range of kids in attendance on opening day. Jeremy Kania brought his two very young children, four-year-old daughter Isabelle and two-year-old son John Paul, and was amazed at how thoroughly the museum's exhibits held their attention.
"[John Paul] is going to be two years old in December and I think this is great," said Kania. "We've only been through not even half yet and they're just having a blast, an absolute blast. [Isabelle] has had her hands on just about every exhibit so far. She's really hands-on. She just wants to touch it and see what it's about. It's very educational for the kids. More hands-on [exhibits] gives them some more sensory exposure and all that. It's a great opportunity for the kids."
Laughter and sounds of discovery filled the museum on Saturday afternoon, but there was also a quiet sense of accomplishment among the museum administrators, the Glazer family and all the donors who helped make the project a reality. Saturday was merely the first day of the museum's mission to grow young minds, and there are decades more to come, but it was unmistakably a wonderful first day.
"This finally feels real," said Heidi Shimberg, Glazer Children's Museum VP of Development and Marketing. "We have finally accomplished the dream, and all of the work is now going to pay off as a gift to the community. To see the reaction from all of these children and the joy they are having is just priceless, and it lets us know that all of our work was worth it."
For more information on the new Glazer Children's Museum, including hours of operation and exhibit descriptions, please visit the museum's web site, GlazerMuseum.org.