By Riley Mayes, Staff Writer
At nine o’clock on a chilly September morning, the museum is a hub of energy and excitement as children clamber over play structures and wonder at sea creatures in the aquarium. Bright and colorful, the museum has a little something for everyone — no matter how old you are.
On June 24, 2021, the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine (CMTM) began a new chapter in its hundred-year legacy when it opened the doors of 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, the Youth Coordinator at CMTM, it’s a place where children can learn to push boundaries and explore. Pointing to a whirlpool 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 that and wonder, how does that work? Can I stop it? Can I clog it? And they learn from it.”
Not only is the museum a place of laughter and learning, but it also plays an active role in fostering diversity and inclusion in the Portland community. Along with its new building, CMTM revamped its mission to create a safe space where diversity is respected, reflected and celebrated. To ensure that it continues to work towards this goal to the best of its ability, the museum stated in its mission statement that it has established a Belonging Task Force that recommends actions for improvement of their practices, as well as implemented programming that focuses on equity, access, and inclusion.
One such example is the Beautiful Blackbird Exhibit. Designed after Ashley Bryan’s children’s book, Beautiful Blackbird, this exhibit engages diverse audiences while exploring the perspective that “Black is beautiful” and “difference is beautiful.” CMTM created this exhibit in collaboration with the Portland-based Indigo Arts Alliance, a Black-led and multiracial 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 utilizes Xbox technology to project Bryan’s book onto architecture, allowing visitors to dance as an avatar in the story. In this way, Liscord stated, “the storybook is brought to life so we can explore important messages within the book, develop identity, and honor those who are underrepresented in museums.” Other components of the Beautiful Blackbird exhibit include the ‘Share Your Story Kiosk,’ a kiosk that allows children and families to listen to others’ stories and share their own; a MakerSpace Art Studio activity inspired by Bryan, and the Artist Gallery Exhibit featuring BIPOC illustrators that is curated by the executive director of Indigo Arts Alliance, Marcia Minters.
Beyond the Beautiful Blackbird exhibit, the museum honors its contribution to diversity and inclusion through educational programs and outreach initiatives: an English Speaking Class, where children can practice new language skills in a safe learning environment; and the Creating Community project, which brings art programming to Portland’s Family Shelter.
Before you head out of the museum, be sure to visit Maddy’s Theatre: the oldest continuously operating children’s theatre in the nation. With a tech booth, professional lighting, nearly a hundred new seats, and a soundproof watching 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 theatre 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 on Maddy’s Theatre’s website. What’s more, if you’re looking for some weekend entertainment for your children or siblings, check out the upcoming show, The Girl Who Swallowed A Cactus, starring USM alum Savannah Irish. Savannah majored in theatre at USM and has since gone on to pursue an internship and post-graduation work at Walt Disney World in Florida. Now she is back in Maine working at CMTM. She stated about her work in a Staff Spotlight, “The Museum & Theatre has everything I wanted-art, kids, interacting with people. It is 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’s always been. When asked what her favorite part of her work was, Liscord replied, “Working with a team full of such incredible artists and craftsmen who love to be here and have such a heart for the children of this community.” It’s true — warm greetings and welcoming smiles from each staff person give it away.
Visit their website to find more information about the museum, COVID-19 safety procedures, how to get involved — and set up a visit today.