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Curious City children’s museum set to open in Peabody

Peabody Institute Library Director Melissa Robinson walks through the Peaceful City room at the CuriousCity pop-up children's museum. (Spenser R. Hasak)

PEABODY — The city is hoping the launch of a temporary children’s museum will give the public another reason to visit downtown.

After months of planning, Curious City is set to open at the George Peabody House & Leather Worker’s Museum on Washington Street Sunday, March 31. The 3,000-square-foot fun place will feature nine exhibits designed for youngsters ages 2-10.

“Having a children’s museum in the downtown is a great step toward revitalization efforts that have been taking off,” said Melissa Robinson, director of the Peabody Institute Library, who has helped guide the project. “It will be great to have a family-friendly destination. I love it because it’s based on learning and play, and it’s sure to spark children’s curiosity and creativity.”  

Martha Holden, a volunteer from the Peabody Cultural Collaborative who has worked behind the scenes to make the museum a reality, said there’s lots of research to suggest children learn best by playing and exploring independently.

“The museum is designed to gets kids away from screens,” she said. “Many of our exhibits offer kids tools to create their own things and stretch their imagination.”

The $88,000 pop-up museum was made possible by a $50,000 grant from the J.B. Thomas Lahey Foundation, which supports initiatives designed to benefit Peabody residents, North Shore and Eastern Bank each contributed $10,000, and the Essex County Community Foundation donated $28,000.

Each room in Curious City will explore different themes to help children tap their imaginations, have fun exploring, and learning about the world around them.

  • Peaceful City offers yoga and meditation-based activities for the whole family.
  • Curious Tales is filled with stories of the world and features a puppet theater with a 20- by 8-foot stage where kids can act out folktale characters.
  • Epi Curious was planned in conjunction with the Essex Agricultural Society to help children discover the importance of a fresh, healthy diet.
  • Generous City honors financier George Peabody and includes a bank playhouse where children can take turns playing the role of the teller or customer, access the faux vault, or visit the drive-up window.
  • Cozy City is a sensory exhibit providing a safe, relaxing space for children of all abilities who may become overwhelmed by their exploration of the museum.
  • Curious World is filled with maps, globes, and a play area to visit the rainforest, desert, oceans and the Arctic.

The largest exhibit space is Discovery City, dedicated to encouraging future engineers, artists, and builders who want to create, investigate, tinker and immerse themselves in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Concepts such as flight, air current, air resistance, and gravity are explored through hands-on investigation. Families will be able to learn about our habitat in the Natural History area and examine rock, fossil and mineral samples, fossil blocks, magnification station, and life-size animal track books.

Mayor Edward A Bettencourt Jr., whose administration has been working to breathe new life into the downtown, said he hopes the temporary museum will become permanent.

“It will not only entertain families, but boost the region’s economy,” he said.

Neil Gordon, CEO of the Discovery Museum in Acton, praised organizers for bringing the museum to Peabody, even if it’s just for a few months.

“Every kid can benefit from a children’s museum experience,” he said. “It’s wonderful for the children and their families.”

But Gordon said launching a permanent museum is not easy.

“I don’t want to discourage anyone, but lots of people have tried,” he said. “It’s even more challenging than a startup because as much as 45 percent of the annual support for a children’s museum is philanthropic.”

For the ones that succeed, he said, it typically takes as long as seven years to get off the ground.

“But I’m an advocate of any community that sees value in a children’s museum and I wish them well,” Gordon added.

The museum will be open on Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. through June.  

Admission is $5. Some libraries will offer guest passes. All tickets must be purchased online at www.curiouscitypeabody.org.

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