The museum will celebrate the grand opening of its new gallery Sept. 18.
Quantia “Key” Fletcher, director of Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, has always wanted a space inside the museum dedicated to kids. As a mom, she knew what it was like to bring her child to the museum and says it’s great when children can learn alongside their parents. After working at the museum for nearly 14 years, that space now exists.
MTCC will celebrate the grand opening of its new Children’s Gallery Saturday. Having a dedicated interactive children’s space inside of a Black history museum is not something Fletcher has seen elsewhere, making the new gallery a unique addition to the Little Rock museum.
“We’re doing something that’s kind of out of the box, but for sure not out of the box for Arkansas, not out of the box for Mosaic Templars,” she says.
By combining an old gallery with a small storage space, MTCC has created a new, intimate gallery full of different areas for touch and connection. The gallery’s inaugural exhibit is called Same. Different. Amazing. Growing up, Fletcher says people in her generation were often taught that different was not to be discussed, but rather ignored “in a polite Southern way.” However, Fletcher and her team are taking a different approach to the exhibit because things are not the same when there’s exclusion, she says.
“What we wanted to show with the title is that different is amazing and that there is nothing wrong with being different,” she says.
The interactive exhibit is designed for children ages 2 to 9 and contains various stations that prompt families to engage in conversations about similarities and differences. One of the first things visitors will see is a landscape with an assortment of dwellings. The facades of the homes open and reveal interactive activities for families. The space is designed in such a way that it can grow with children. For example, while younger kids may simply notice the houses are full of families that all look different, parents can talk to their older children about housing discrimination and inequity.
One of the most popular components of the exhibit is an interactive touch screen featuring 30 characters that all have different ethnicities, religions, income levels and background stories.
“The visual interactive is really a special place, kids are drawn to it,” education director Raven Cook says.
On the far side of the gallery, kids will find a space where they can discuss how they see themselves in relation to the world. There are stickers they can put on a wall that say things like “I am kind” and “I am brave.” Defining yourself is an important part of development for kids, Cook says. Through this activity parents can learn how their children see themselves and use that information to support them in their development.
“The ability to define oneself for oneself is power. It’s a very important part of the Black experience,” Cook says.
To design the new children’s gallery, MTCC worked with Exhibit Concepts, Inc., a company that helped design the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Miss. The new gallery is the first phase of a larger $1.3 million renovation project that’s expected to be completed by Spring 2023.
The debut of the Children’s Gallery coincides with the opening of MTCC’s new 360 degree theatre. The immersive space, which welcomes guests as they enter the museum, explores the past, present and future of Arkansas African American history. Visitors can also check out a redesigned gift shop featuring items made by Black Arkansans.
Fletcher began working for the museum before it opened a decade ago and says it’s surreal to see the completed Children’s Gallery, which has been in the works for about five years.
“It is very surreal and I’m so proud of the work that our team here is doing, and I love that the museum is moving forward as history is moving forward,” Fletcher said.
The grand opening of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center Children’s Gallery is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 18. Families will sign up when they arrive for a time slot to visit the gallery. Outdoor and indoor activities are planned including crafts and activities related to the exhibit’s themes, performances by magician Tommy Terrific, music from a live DJ and food trucks.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, guests are encouraged to mask and social distance. The gallery will be cleaned between small groups and sanitizer stations will be available throughout the museum.
More information about Saturday’s festivities is available on the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center website.