Golisano Children's Museum of Naples ready for its kid-friendly mission

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Joe Cox, executive director of the Golisano Children's museum of Naples, shows how the catch and release fishing pond works on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012.

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff Joe Cox, executive director of the Golisano Children's museum of Naples, shows how the catch and release fishing pond works on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012.

If you go

Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples

Where: 15080 Livingston Road, Naples

When: Tentatively, Saturday, Feb. 25 for members, Tuesday, Feb. 28 for the public; hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. for nonmembers (opening at 9 a.m. for members) Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. for all on Sundays; closed Mondays

Admission: $10 for ages 1 and older; free to members ($125 for a family membership)

Something else: Adults must be accompanied by a child to enter the museum; some adults-only evening events are being organized for coming months; see www.cmon.org for details

Something more: There’s a toddler gallery upstairs with a puffy, cushioned floor and large toys

And finally: Special characters will visit, beginning with the Cat in the Hat March 3

Information: 239-514-0084; www.cmon.org

When the Golsano Children’s Museum of Naples opens next weekend, adults who don’t have the requisite child to escort them in will be pea-green with envy of those who do.

Or make that lime-green, bell-pepper green — even turquoise-infused under-the-sea green. All those colors are there, in its two-story, 30,196-square foot embrace of kid-formative exhibitions.

In fact, colors — natural colors — were so important the museum staff spent 18 months in pursuit of the most realistically painted fabricated watermelons for its Produce Market and Farm gallery. Executive Director Joe Cox recalls that the minutely variegated, pearlescent shell of its walk-in nautilus in the Beach gallery took two painters two full months to create.

When kids venture inside they may actually encounter a human-sized snail ready to talk to them about its hard-shell life. Jealous yet, adults?

If its certificate of occupancy is approved by the county, the museum plans to open with minimal fanfare next weekend for members, and on Feb. 28 to the public. A grand opening is set for late March at its 15080 Livingston Road quarters.

This past week, bricks were still being laid for the amphitheater in the Johnsonville "Backyardville" space outdoors. The waterworks, an outdoor assembly of hands-on water-moving and handling devices, is yet to be installed. A butterfly garden that will bloom on a balcony behind the museum's kiwi-and-azure sign is still awaiting a last-minute planting.

Most of the museum, however, is kid-ready, from a World Cafe where kids "cook," with yarn noodles and felt veggies, cuisine of the featured country, to a replicated banyan tree that children can crawl inside and up to survey Floor One.

As journalists strolled through on a recent visit, the place was buzzing with staff and technicians getting signage ready.

Kid grabbers

The water movers, which are immensely popular in established kids' museums, are bound to be kid magnets. Another favorite may be the TV studio. It allows kids to grab a mic and broadcast "shows" on various topics — including that Florida fixture, a live hurricane report.

What differentiates this museum may be its attention to multi-age opportunities. The TV studio has a weatherboard on which toddlers can set up the puffy cloud scenarios while their older siblings exercise their inner anchor man or woman. Younger children will find crawling into the bubble inside the oversized seashell more fun than navigating an Everglades maze to get inside the synthetic alligator's head send a rumbling roar through the exhibit.

The museum, nearly 10 years in development and construction, has packed its sections full of dual-interest options as well.

One of the most thoroughly diverse of them is the Loos Art Gallery, where kids can wander through rooms of art featuring either children or animals. It's all real art, all donated by supporters, artists or their estates, sleuthed out by local gallery owner William Meek.

"Most children's museums are not collecting museums," Cox observed. "But the great museums have collections that are kept through generations — so that our children's grandchildren may be coming to see the same works."

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Shelves and drawers full of art material fill one of the rooms at the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples on Feb. 17, 2012. The museum encourages children to look, touch, listen and think in a variety of ways.

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff Shelves and drawers full of art material fill one of the rooms at the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples on Feb. 17, 2012. The museum encourages children to look, touch, listen and think in a variety of ways.

The pieces range from historically helpful works from local artists, such as Muffy Clark Gill's batik of an Indian toddler, to national names such as rebel artist Jon Corbino. Because kids will be kids, the artwork has been sealed inside a sophisticated protective plastic cover that is invisible and unobtrusive.

But because the museum wants to satisfy kids' natural curiosity, each work also will have signage that includes a tactile sample of the material and the medium the artist used. Kids can feel the texture of acrylic on canvas or an egg tempera, for example.

The signage also includes questions, such as asking what the characters in a painting are thinking or what are they reacting to. Some have props stationed nearby so youngsters can set up their own live version of the painting.

"The goal of this is to inspire children to go out and create their own artwork," Cox explained.

That has led to some evocative devices; plastic adhesive elements designed to replicate some of the works in another room, where kids can rearrange components of the painting to suit themselves.

There are mounds of sticky foam beads that can be reformed time and again, and separate areas for what Cox calls "clean projects, messy projects and a community project."

The first community project will be to paint on a mural created for the wall. It's all part of the museum's four-word mantra: Look, Touch. Listen. Think.

Of the community

The developers of this museum visited no fewer than 50 other children's museums to see their successes and brainstorm with their staffs. From that, said Cox, came an overriding philosophy, a sort of thunderclap of wisdom delivered from the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, one of the nation's best.

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 The fall and winter room in the four seasons area of the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples. In the autumn room, children can learn to make jack-o-lanterns on fake pumpkins, while in the winter room, children can step inside an igloo, which is kept at 59-degrees.

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff The fall and winter room in the four seasons area of the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples. In the autumn room, children can learn to make jack-o-lanterns on fake pumpkins, while in the winter room, children can step inside an igloo, which is kept at 59-degrees.

"They told us, Don't just build a building, but an institution that will become part of your community."

For that reason the museum used focus groups of local children to create its puffy Noah's ark design. It has developed curricula that can dovetail into Collier County Public Schools units in various studies. That has been a success before the museum has even opened its doors.

"We're totally booked up for school field trips to the end of the school year," Cox acknowledged.

There are 12-week after-school programs that can take children for selected studies from crime-scene investigation to staging a fashion show. (One day a week will be saved for a fee-based series open to all children.)

"And this isn't just about pretty clothing and modeling," said Cox of the fashionseries, supported by a local women's clothier, Marissa Collection. "You have to be organized and market and create the backdrop for and stage the entire runway show. It's a business."

The museum's cafe also has a movable-wall room that can book children's parties, and already has — "Dozens and dozens of them," Cox said.

Seasons for everything

Cox recalls that the museum's organizers asked its focus groups three questions, including what they wanted to see, as well as what they would want in a museum if the sky were the limit. For sunny Southwest Florida, that turned out to be a taste of seasons that aren't so visually apparent here.

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 The exterior of the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples at the North Collier Regional Park on Feb. 17, 2012. The museum is more than 30,196 square feet, with two floors and an outside theater for concerts and plays.

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff The exterior of the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples at the North Collier Regional Park on Feb. 17, 2012. The museum is more than 30,196 square feet, with two floors and an outside theater for concerts and plays.

So the Four Seasons gallery, complete with Vivaldi music of that name, offers kids a chance to rake leaves, make jack o'lanterns every week of the year and put their hands on a solid wall of ice in its igloo-centered Winter room.

The museum is planning its own seasons: Its World Cafe will feature one nation for three months. The first is Thailand. England — especially during its Olympic months — will be next, with Germany to follow. The museum is open to bids to add nations to its lineup, at a $25,000 price.

Because of the generosity of a woman who didn't live to see the museum's christening, CMON is equipped to display artifacts from nearly every country in the world, the late Dr. Ernestine O"Connell of nearby Venice. O'Connell donated her priceless artifacts to the museum several years ago.

"She went everywhere, and cataloged everything — 1,888 objects and 140,000 slides," said Cox. "We couldn't possibly buy something like this. We're forever indebted to her.'

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