'MAKING POWERFUL HISTORY'

Children's museum dedicates space

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They gathered and celebrated. After more than 15 years of hard work, fundraising and planning, the Bronx Children’s Museum is finally ready to open.

Well, almost.

Some of the borough’s biggest names gathered at what is affectionately known as “the Power House” near Yankee Stadium last week to celebrate what museum officials called a “key ceremony” — where they officially take possession of the second-floor space geared for children up through fourth grade.

“I am going to try not to cry all morning, because this really is such a momentous day for the Bronx Children’s Museum. For all of us,” said Hope Harley, the president of the museum’s board of directors.

“So many of us in this room have worked so long and so hard to bring this day to fruition, and so I’m not going to dwell on the past. I’m going to dwell on the future because we are on our way. Our doors will soon be open to the public. And this is just wonderful.”

There are more than 190,000 children in the Bronx younger than 9, yet the borough is the only one in the city without a museum dedicated to that very demographic. Since Harley co-founded the museum in 2005, securing actual space has been a challenge. Despite those physical limitations, the Bronx Children’s Museum has continued to operate “without walls,” providing arts and science programs to some 16,000 kids each year up until the start of the coronavirus pandemic through schools, shelters, libraries and parks.

Many experienced the museum on wheels in the form of a large purple bus. In one year alone, it visited 23 schools along with 85 fairs and festivals.

Now just steps away from the Bronx Terminal Market in space controlled by the city’s parks department, the museum expects to have more than 13,000 square feet of interactive space in the former power-generation building at Mill Pond Park beginning this summer intended to accommodate some 30,000 children each year.

Joining Harley at the event was a number of electeds, including incoming Bronx borough president Vanessa Gibson, who called last week’s key ceremony a “truly important milestone for the borough of the Bronx.”

“Today, in this very historic building that we call ‘the Power House,’ we are making powerful history,” she said. “After more than 13 years, I am so proud to be here today as one of the champions of this project, and a champion of our children and our families, along with all of you in supporting this monumental project.”

The city has funneled more than $14.7 million into the museum project and its operations, according to officials, with another $4 million coming from state sources like the Assembly for its actual physical space. The museum itself raised $4.3 million, mostly in private funding, to create interactive exhibits as well as purchase furniture, fixtures and equipment.

Still, the museum required $1.2 million in operating costs this year, and expects that to grow to $1.6 million next year. Organizers already have started a new fundraising campaign with the hopes of adding another $525,000 to its coffers by the end of the month, with another $2.1 million by 2023.

The interactive exhibits are expected to explore a number of areas including the arts, culture, science, community, natural resources and the environment. There also will be an artist-in-residence classroom space, as well as a multipurpose performance area known as “The Cloud.”

What will likely be one of the more visible centerpieces of the museum is what officials describe as a 32-foot water exhibit.

Among the political dignitaries was one face familiar to several generations around her — and a longtime advocate for opening the Bronx Children’s Museum. She’s an actress named Sonia Manzano, but for nearly 45 years, she played Maria on the PBS educational show “Sesame Street” — or as Oscar the Grouch liked to call her, “Skinny.”

“I know the importance of children and early childhood education,” said Manzano, who is now the creator of an animated children’s series, “Alma’s Way,” through Fred Rogers Productions. “I know that it’s very important for them to be young and have a place where they can use their imaginations, and flex their muscles, and think of things. I love that it’s important for the very young to have a place to come to, where they can escape whatever is going on in their minds.”

That was something Manzano wished she had growing up in the South Bronx. Even just a thought of a museum could have went a long way.

“The thing about kids that I find so remarkable and so exciting is that you don’t have to take them the whole way,” Manzano said. “All you have to do is point them in the right direction and watch them fly.”

The interior space — which will operate under the theme of “Water Connects Us All” — was designed by the architectural firm of O’Neill McVoy. It’s a place combining a fine arts museum with a children’s museum, according to museum executive director Carla Precht, that “emulates a natural landscape with all its beauty, twists and turns, surprises, and diversity.”

“The children of the Bronx only deserve the best,” Precht said in prepared remarks delivered ahead of the ceremony. “We think we achieved just that: An unforgettable, beautiful space they will be proud of, and will enjoy for years to come.”

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