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Children’s Museum Gets New Designation

A little museum on Capitol Hill got a big boost from a “Miscellaneous Provision” inserted into H.R. 13, the Museum and Library Services Act of 2003, which was signed into law late last month.

The bill states that the Capitol Hill Children’s Museum be designated the National Children’s Museum, and it’s a small but important change, said Shelly Goode, the museum’s vice president for external relations.

“It certainly does help,” Goode said. “What it does is credential us. We now have to live up to what that word means — national is not a word we take lightly.”

And as the 29-year-old museum begins the process of building a new 140,000-square-foot institution near the Southwest waterfront, that credentialing will come in handy as the museum seeks support and donors for the effort. But while the new facility is at least five years off and the museum is still looking to finalize its concept development plan for the institution, the new name may help in fast-tracking some parts of the process.

“The name elevates [the museum] to a higher level,” said D.C. City Councilman Harold Brazil (D-At Large), who serves on the museum’s Board of Trustees. “I think it will help with fundraising, and with the move down to the Southwest, it will help in negotiations for space and appropriations.”

When the CCM first arrived on Capitol Hill in 1974, it was one of only 30 museums of its type in the country. The Hill facility has 36,000 square feet of exhibit space and receives some 200,000 visitors each year.

Today the NCM is working with Amaze Design, a Boston-based museum design firm that helped plan the National Museum of Australia, to create new hands-on exhibits for children ages six months to 12 years. The complex will also include a 350-seat theater for performances, concerts and films as well as an outdoor entertainment area.

Andy Anway, president of Amaze Designs, said that while the process of defining the vision for the new museum will take at least another six weeks, the new complex will continue to be a venue for local residents while showcasing the highlights of children’s museums from across the country.

“We are really making a leap from where we are,” Goode said. “We’re looking at building an institution that would be built on a national scale and attract national attention …. Children’s museums are the fastest growing segment of the museum community.”

The new NCM has received the blessing of the Association of Children’s Museums, an organization that seeks to promote the 220 children’s museums in the United States and similar institutions around the world. Goode said the association’s support has been helpful as the museum starts to seek funding for development as well as in obtaining the national designation.

“What Members of Congress saw was that we’re not in competition with other children’s museums,” she said. “We’re not positioning ourselves to compete with them … What we want to do is be representative of what children’s museums do in this country.”

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