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A World Of Wonder Spokane Women Open Hands-On Museum For Kids

Fri., Oct. 4, 1996

Colin Webster obviously hadn’t seen the movie “Twister.”

The 1-year-old wasn’t scared of the Tornado! machine during Thursday’s opening of the Children’s Museum of Spokane. He dived right inside the contraption.

A swirling tunnel of mist spouted up ruler-straight, then bent and started striking about the case like a cobra.

Inside, Colin danced around, looked lovingly out at mom - and did a blowfish imitation against the glass. Then his wobbly knees gave way and he was rump-down, plugging up the tornado hole, red sneakers up in the air.

There was no mistaking this place for the Louvre.

“Hello, Spokane,” museum president Mary Brandt said. “This is the wonder of a children’s museum.”

The storefront-turned-hands-on-exhibit-hall at Post and Spokane Falls Boulevard was flooded with children dressing in Greek costumes, blowing giant bubbles, playing with dough and sometimes just causing a ruckus.

It was exactly what organizers had in mind.

“I’m thrilled,” co-founder Martha Gilligan-Gaines said as children stomped dough into the carpet.

Most people didn’t have a clue what a children’s museum was supposed to be when Brandt, Gilligan-Gaines and Lupe Gilmartin pitched the idea early last year.

Brandt, a nurse and teen drug counselor, and Gilligan-Gaines, a full-time mother, had been on family trips to other cities and had seen museums just for youngsters. They’re places where the exhibits are interactive, kid-tough and made for playing.

“It’s always been sad to me there wasn’t a museum in Spokane specifically for children,” Brandt said.

Unbeknownst to each other, both contacted the The Children’s Museum in Seattle in 1994 to get advice on how to start one here.

They got together with Gilmartin, who works in retail sales, and started holding children’s events last year at the Cheney Cowles museum. They formed a board. And all the while they collected money.

Washington Trust Bank, Washington Water Power, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Seafirst Bank and Metropolitan Mortgage donated to the cause. Some 250 people also forked over $35 for year-long memberships.

More than a year and $35,000 later, the museum drew a big opening-day crowd of parents, children and supporters.

The opening is only a trial run - after three months the storefront museum will either move to a permanent spot somewhere or shut down. To pay its current expenses, organizers still need another $15,000. To open a permanent site, they will need $500,000.

It’s all up to corporate sponsors and parents now. Thursday’s visitors were all for it.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Mary Anderson said as her 5-year-old daughter visited a mock Greek store, the walls covered in brooms and brass pots. “I became a member right away.”

“The problem is, I wanna play with it, and they … ,” Dave Silva nodded toward the children blowing giant bubbles, “won’t let me.”

The true test was the reaction of tykes.

Four simultaneously jumped behind the controls of a big toy crane. There was only one blue hard hat to go around. Austin Mell, 5, got a little too excited cranking the dinosaur-like neck up and down.

“I turned the handle right off!” the blond boy hollered, still whirling the disconnected crank.

And the baby who jumped inside the wind machine?

“It’s OK,” one of the device’s designers said.

Dominic Santangelo came all the way from Bellingham to see kids enjoy his creations.

“It surprises me every time, when you see the sense of wonder on their faces,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back to the shop and start putting together more ideas.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MUSEUM TIMES The Children’s Museum of Spokane will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

This sidebar appeared with the story: MUSEUM TIMES The Children’s Museum of Spokane will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.


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