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Sarasota Children's Museum kicks off quest for a dedicated space

Harry Strunk, 2, explores inside a cardboard tunnel.
Harry Strunk, 2, explores inside a cardboard tunnel.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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The rain on the morning of Jan. 7 may have dampened the grass, but it didn’t appear to dampen interest in the arrival of a new type of nonprofit in Sarasota: a children's museum.

Plenty of families still turned out, despite the drizzle and overcast weather, for the museum's inaugural event, The Museum of Me, held at the Ibis Playground at The Bay Park.

Children had the chance to listen to a reading of a book, “The Museum of Me,” by Emma Lewis, perform an art activity and engage with the objects, contraptions and cardboard tunnels arranged around the playground.

The concept of a children's museum had generated interest from different corners of the community before the nonprofit's founding. 

In fact, co-founders Asya Stuart and Christina “CC” Fredericks had both been pursuing the idea separately before joining forces in August.

After moving to Sarasota two years ago from Hong Kong, Stuart had found herself searching for hands-on museum attractions for her three children, like the ones she had known while living in Russia and abroad. 

Meanwhile, Fredericks been interested in the concept due to her educational background in early childhood education with a focus on development. Although she never pursued a career in education, she has remained passionate about the subject, and also has four children of her own.

“I have always loved children’s museums,” Fredericks said. “I know the importance of educational play, and of having an indoor space to take them that they can play and enjoy while also making that educational.”

Giovanni Bierschank explores a tub full of colorful balls.
Photo by Ian Swaby

After Stuarts’ and Fredericks’ respective groups united, the Sarasota Children's Museum became established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in November. 

Now, working as a group of eight, the museum has set out to engage with the community, hosting discussions with organizations like Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and Ringling College of Art and Design. 

The nonprofit addresses what its founders say is an absence of a comprehensive facility geared specifically towards young learners in a city that boasts artistic, historic and other attractions, since the closure of the Gulfcoast Wonder & Imagination Zone in 2012.

“It's designed to provide hands-on, playful experiences for the kids because children learn through play,” Stuart previously told the Observer. “The children's museum exhibits and programs are tailored experiences that allow kids to explore with their own senses, to touch, to pull and to really bring them into this 3D learning environment.”

Programs are described as weaving together Sarasota's artistic heritage with educational exhibits, and as incorporating hands-on approaches to subjects like science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Allie Minzey, 8, experiments with a toy at the museum.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Although the museum is beginning with a “museum without walls” approach, developing programs and exhibits and launching a fundraising campaign, its founders aim to establish a dedicated space by the end of 2024. 

The group has applied to host an exhibit, "Sarasota from A to Z," at The Ringling Museum and plans to participate in Suncoast Remake Learning Days in the spring, in addition to hosting other events. 

Programs Director Megan Travers hopes to draw on her experience as a graduate of Ringling College of Art & Design.

"I'm excited that the children and families of all ages will be able to come together, learn about art starting at a young age, and hope that it will spark or inspire some creativity in them that they never knew they had,” she said.

Travers also brings relationships with instructors and others at the college, which she is using to recruit graphic design majors to assist with the museum’s brand identity. 

Even once a permanent space is found, the makeup of the museum is expected to remain ever-changing, she said.

The amount of space being sought is under 7,000 square feet.

“We need to have a lot of parking spaces so families can easily come and they don't have to worry about parking,” Stuart said. “So we're very flexible. It could be a storefront. Maybe it could be a warehouse. We’re definitely going to be expanding our search.”

Travers hopes the space will allow parents to enjoy a place to relax, with a small cafe, while children explore the location. 

“With the climate and Florida it can be very challenging to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, but I think having an indoor, air-conditioned space that ignites play, that ignites that creativity in the child, will be extremely beneficial."



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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