Since opening its doors last September, the Glazer Children's Museum has been a popular destination for children to learn and grow. Interactive exhibits have engaged kids of all ages in creative play and discovery, and Tampa's newest attraction has already been host to more than 130,000 visitors during day-time hours.
On Saturday, the museum stayed open a little bit later than usual, this time welcoming a crowd young at heart with a similar goal for the night: to have fun and look toward the future. The occasion was the museum's Imagination Gala 2011, and it proved to be another great success as it challenged the community to help develop our youth.
For the first time, this elegant event supported the museum's Annual Campaign, an initiative to benefit the essential funding for innovative exhibits, family programming, multicultural celebrations, field trip experiences and assistance for children and families.
"The museum really relies on the community, foundations and both past and new supporters to help us raise money," said Glazer Children's Museum President and CEO Al Najjar. "In many ways this is our signature event, because we've been doing it for quite a few years. But it's also a great time to connect. It's a great time for donors to get together, for us to thank them, to show what we're doing and to share what's happening in the future."
That campaign is integral to the museum's mission to create learning environments where children play, discover and connect to the world around them in order to develop as lifelong learners and leaders. And if Saturday's festive scene was any indicator, the museum's playful environment has stayed true to its theme.
Live entertainment by the Vodkanauts, whose spirited performance drew partygoers to the dance floor, and an array of delectable cuisine kept attendees engaged and entertained.
"I'm excited to be here," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer. "It's fun. I get to see old friends who I haven't seen that often, people that are active in the museum and people that have worked very hard behind the scenes to get things done. Not everybody gets the credit they deserve. A lot of people worked very hard to make this happen."
A silent auction provided a wide variety of unique keepsakes and experiences, including tickets to local attractions and sporting events, luxury restaurant dining and professional art. Live auction opportunities proved even more engaging, as guests were given the chance to bid on rare items not often found at the average fundraiser.
Among the auction items that secured generous donations were a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be featured in the museum's fall media campaign; a seven day cruise to an exotic location; and two tickets to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, donated by the Glazer Family Foundation.
"The Glazer family has really played a great role as the catalyst to make it believable and make it credible so that public donors can come onboard and help us," said Najjar. "It's truly wonderful to see the excitement and the engagement that they have, whether it's Bryan or Darcie or all of the brothers who came for the opening and have come since, and how much they love this place, have emotionally invested into it and dedicate to children and family."
"This museum has exceeded our expectations and I think Tampa's expectations," said Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, Co-President of the Glazer Family Foundation. "It's just a fantastic place for families and kids. I'd love it to be a part of everybody's upbringing here, so when they get older they have great memories of the museum and want to take their kids. We want it to be an integral part of Tampa and of its cultural landscape."
The new 53,000-square-foot museum provides a safe and playful environment where children and adults can learn about themselves, each other and the world around them through exploration, role-playing and direct experience. Since opening, school trips have brought more than 12,000 students from five surrounding counties to the museum to take advantage of the 12 themed galleries and 170 "interactivities" throughout the facility.
"We've had a wonderful participation from the community, and people come back through our membership program – we've sold over 6,500 memberships since we opened," said Najjar. "But you also see 30 percent of our attendance coming regionally from outside the metropolitan area, from Florida and from around the country. The museum has a well-rounded audience that really reflects the kind of attraction that it is and what it offers."
A combination of permanent and traveling exhibits plus comprehensive year-round programs and special events provide children, parents, caregivers and teachers a rich and ever-changing environment for playful learning.
The museum also offers over 5,000 square feet of event space, 2,500 square feet of classroom space and a 1,000-square-foot roof terrace on the third floor. On Saturday, that space was put to good use.
"It's great that we can bring the message that not only people in Tampa get to see this, but people go home in all other parts of the world and talk about what a great community Tampa is and what a great children's museum they have here," said Glazer. "It's a great place to come and visit."
And while the museum's familiar slogan, "It'll grow your mind," has drawn the attention of children, it proved particularly fitting for Saturday night's visitors as well.
"We really focus on children, that's what we do and that's our main goal, but most adults that come here are very jealous of the children," said Najjar. "They say, 'I want to come here and play, I want to have some time to play,' but usually when you're mom and dad, you're watching the kids and running after them. For many of those people, tonight's a great time for them to come here and play and enjoy and see the museum in a very different light and atmosphere."