By Teya Vitu, originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican
Out of nowhere, the Santa Fe Children’s Museum was able to complete a five-year exhibition “refresh” pretty much overnight.
After Hannah Hausman became executive director in March, she let the museum’s board know the museum needed a “refresh.”
“A lot of our exhibits are there from when the museum opened 36 years ago,” Hausman said.
Then in early September, she got a call from the Playbox Discovery Center in Albuquerque, which was closing down after the indoor play center had opened in 2019, only to face off with the pandemic.
“They said, ‘We want the children’s museum to adopt our exhibits,’ ” Hausman said. “Talk about fate.”
The museum closed Wednesday to finish installing the Playbox exhibits and reopened Thursday with the new exhibits in place.
They include a Fire and Rescue Firehouse; a Discovery Animal Clinic; Uncle Conor’s Construction Zone; a Discovery Market; an early childhood play structure called CedarWorks; and an interactive light display called Litezilla.
She is inviting businesses in the specific professions to buy naming rights for the exhibits.
The David Montoya family opened the Playbox Discovery Center on Dec. 7, 2019, and three months later had to shut down for COVID-19, not to reopen until July this year. Indoor mask mandates in a setting for unvaccinated children 8 and younger combined to lead the Montoyas to close Playbox Discovery Center on Sept. 26.
“It was not the greatest timing,” Montoya said. “We had 2½ really good months. We had to turn away people at the door. We had a huge customer base from Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Española. “[After reopening], we struggled with staffing and people now wanting to come out.”
Montoya wanted the exhibits to be displayed elsewhere, but no Albuquerque entities were interested.
“We had taken our kids to the [Santa Fe] Children’s Museum four years ago,” Montoya said. “I just picked up the phone and called Hannah.“
Playbox Discovery Center was a mini-children’s museum with just 2,600 square feet of space. The Santa Fe Children’s Museum has 7,000 square feet of display space within an 8,440-square-foot building.
Hausman had specifically wanted to refresh early childhood offerings up to age 5, and she said the Playbox exhibits target that age group.
They add up to about 80 percent of the exhibition refresh Hausman wanted to do over the next five years. She said the museum paid the Montoya family $30,000 in donor funds for the equipment valued at more than $100,000 that could have cost more than $200,000 for the museum to build itself.
“We used funds we raised for capital improvements,” she said. “It’s a miniature town, a miniature center.”
Hausman was able to create space for the Playbox village by shifting around other exhibits and removing others. Exhibits were already spaced out more than usual as a COVID-19 precaution. The nano and STEM-based exhibits and magnet table were removed to make way for Playbox, she said.
Along with exhibits, Hausman wants to assemble a 10-year plan to refurbish the 1930s structure. The roof was repaired during the 2020 pandemic closure.
“This was a perfect time to do [Playbox] in a time when you can’t just say, ‘Let’s do a master plan,’ ” she said.