By Riley Mayes, Editor-in-chief
At nine o’clock on a cold September morning, the museum is a center of energy and excitement as children climb the play structures and marvel at the sea creatures in the aquarium. Bright and colorful, the museum has something for everyone, whatever your age.
On June 24, 2021, the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine (CMTM) began a new chapter in its century-old heritage by opening the doors to its new location at Thompson’s Point. With 30,000 square feet, this new building includes a MakerSpace, a Maine Watershed Aquarium and a state-of-the-art theater.
For Brittany Liscord, Youth Coordinator at CMTM, it’s a place where kids can learn to push boundaries and explore. Pointing to a hot tub in the “Go With the Flow” science exhibit, she said, “It’s a safe place for children and their adults to take risks. They can look at this and ask, how does this work? Can I stop it? Can I butcher it? And they are learning from it. “
Not only is the museum a place of laughter and learning, but it also plays an active role in promoting diversity and inclusion in the Portland community. Along with its new building, CMTM has reorganized its mission to create a safe space where diversity is respected, reflected and celebrated. To ensure that it continues to work to the best of its ability towards this goal, the museum said in its mission statement that it established a membership working group that recommends actions to improve their practices, as well as the implementation of programs focused on equity, access and inclusion.
One such example is the Beautiful Blackbird exhibit. Designed after Ashley Bryan’s children’s book, Beautiful blackbird, this exhibition engages diverse audiences while exploring the perspective that “black is beautiful” and “difference is beautiful”. CMTM created this exhibit in conjunction with the Portland-based company Indigo Arts Alliance, a multi-racial, black-led alliance to celebrate the arts, to honor its mission that all children experience positive identity development.
This exhibit is also the first of its kind in Maine. It uses Xbox technology to project Bryan’s Book on Architecture, allowing visitors to dance like an avatar in the story. In this way, said Liscord, “the storybook comes to life so that we can explore the important messages in the book, develop identity and honor those who are under-represented in museums.” Other components of the Beautiful blackbird the exhibit includes the “Share Your Story Kiosk,” a kiosk that allows children and families to listen to the stories of others and share their own; a MakerSpace Art Studio activity inspired by Bryan; and the Artist Gallery exhibition featuring illustrators from BIPOC, curated by Indigo Arts Alliance Executive Director Marcia Minters.
Beyond Beautiful blackbird exhibition, the museum honors its contribution to diversity and inclusion through educational programs and outreach initiatives: an English-speaking classroom, where children can practice new language skills in a learning environment sure ; and the Building a Community project, which brings artistic programming to the Portland Family Shelter.
Before leaving the museum, don’t forget to visit Maddy’s Theater: the oldest operating children’s theater in the country. With a tech booth, professional lighting, nearly a hundred new seats, and a soundproofed viewing area (in case your little one needs to stretch their legs), the theater is bigger and better than ever. For those who are curious about getting involved in CMTM, the theater is a great place to start. If you are an actor or looking to volunteer, they always welcome a helping hand. You can find more information about Maddy’s Theater’s website. In addition, if you are looking for weekend entertainment for your children or siblings, check out the upcoming show, The girl who swallowed a cactus, with a USM Savannah Irish alumnus. Savannah majored in theater at USM and has since pursued an internship and post-graduate work at Walt Disney World in Florida. She is now back in Maine and working at CMTM. She spoke about her work in a Spotlight on people, “The museum and the theater have everything I wanted: art, children, interacting with people. It’s a wonderful fit and it makes me happy to go to work every day.
CMTM may be newer and brighter, but its heart is just as big as it always has been. When asked what his favorite part of his job was, Liscord replied, “Working with a team full of amazing artists and craftspeople who love being here and have such a heart for the children of this community.” That’s right – the warm greetings and welcoming smiles from every staff member are proof of that.
Visit their website to find more information about the museum, COVID-19 security procedures, how to get involved – and schedule a visit today.