GLENS FALLS — Curiosity, which Eleanor Roosevelt declared one of the most useful gifts one can be given, has kept kids and parents alike coming back to the World Awareness Children’s Museum in Glens Falls year after year.
It’s something that June Waters, the newly appointed director plans to keep piquing for years to come.
“The goal is to be as interactive and playful as possible while giving a glimpse into an experience kids can’t have anywhere else and will create some curiosity about the rest of the world,” Waters said.
Although she’s new to the director position, she’s no stranger to the local non- profit community. After graduating from college, Waters started her career in New York City in the publishing world industry before moving to Glens Falls to raise her three children. During that time she worked at The Hyde (in their education department), then as the director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Southern
Adirondacks, then and at WSWHE Boces. After her children grew up, she moved back to New York City to work for an education-focused nonprofit which brought arts into the schools.
As a Capital Region native (she grew up in Hudson Falls), no matter how far she went, the area seemed to call back to her.
“I just keep coming back,” Waters said. She returned to The Hyde for several years before moving out to California to work with an Episcopal Church, assisting with their refugee and English as a second language program. It brought her attention to how diverse the world is and the importance of celebrating that.
“There was a little bit of that [job] made me curious about this position because this is not the most diverse area in the country, although it’s changing; combining that with art and children and education it was interesting to think about the possibilities for this organization,” Waters said.
The museum has been in operation since 1995, although it’s only been at 89 Warren St. for the last few years. It was founded by Dr. Jacquiline S. Touba, in part because of the International Arts and Culture Association, which organized student art exchanges between various countries. Touba wanted to preserve the art and bring cultural diversity to local children.
“This museum is unique in the country for having such an extensive collection of international children’s art. There’s no other [museum], children’s or otherwise, that has this. There [are] about 10,000 works of art in our space upstairs,” Waters said.
Curator Russell Serrianne works to create interactive exhibitions around the artwork, like the “Hola Mexico,” exhibition. He created a realistic-looking Mexican kitchen, complete with a fake fire, stove, table and chairs, sink and artwork from Mexico. A step away is a garden wall, with plastic corn and tomatoes that children can pick and bring back to the kitchen.
With each exhibition, another sphere of the world comes alive. A Nigerian marketplace gives a hurried sense, and there are props for children to pretend to buy and sell produce or textiles.
Across the Museum, a Japanese tea room, complete with teacups, plastic foods and kimonos for children to wear, has a meditative effect on visitors.
“You enter the space and there’s a whole different feeling. Kids who have been tearing around and they come in here and all of a sudden they’re kneeling quietly and passing out their sushi,” Waters said.
Imaginative play intersects with language skills and an exposure to different walks of life. There’s a taste of Paris and Istanbul, with restaurant and cafe setups. Around the corner, there’s a music room with instruments from drums to mbiras. They’ve also got currency stations and world fashion stations, giving kids a chance to play with money from another country and dress in everything from traditional Japanese kimonos to Spanish dance dresses. It’s another way that children can walk around in someone else’s life (or in this case shoes) for an afternoon.
Beyond the exhibitions, the Museum often holds classes and events in their art studio, which harkens back to their roots. But the museum’s education department also develops programs to take into schools that might not be able to go to the museum.
“We are able to be very nimble in creating classroom [programs]. We can work with their curriculum,” Waters said.
Although the museum does a fair amount of, Waters hopes to expand the classroom outreach. She’s also hoping to increase the number of exhibitions the Museum is able to have each year.
In order to do that of course, she admits the Museum will need funding, something she is a bit concerned about.
“We face challenges of funding, like many nonprofits,” Waters said, “We want to be the best that we can be and that takes funding.”
On May 6, they’ll hold an International Cuisine Gala, which is their biggest (and perhaps the tastiest) fundraiser of the year. Waters said the community is supportive, as is the Museum’s board, staff and volunteers, which all helps to fuel that all-important gift of curiosity.
“It’s really important to experience the world from other people’s eyes by trying on the clothes they wear, by thinking about what they eat for dinner, what happens when they go to school and come home from school because children can relate to each other’s activities and interests. That’s where we start,” Waters said.
World Awareness Children’s Museum
89 Warren St, Glens Falls.
Tickets: $5 for general admission; free for children aged 3 and under.
For more information, visit worldchildrensmuseum.org.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.