Chicago Scenic teamed with the DuPage Children’s Museum exhibit development team and long-time design collaborator, the firm Architecture is Fun, to create a new traveling exhibit that brings to life characters from “The Questioneers”, a popular STEAM-based children’s book series written by local author Andrea Beaty.
The exhibit debuted October 1st and museum visitors are in for a treat!
First a little background: The traveling exhibit concept began with a brief hallway conversation, according to Kimberly Stull, Chief of Building and Making at the Museum, which is located in Chicago’s suburban Naperville. And before we go any further here: How about Kimberly Stull’s job title? That has to be the most intriguing and fun sounding title we’ve heard in a very long time.
Back to the story, according to Kimberly, “We liked the exhibit idea so much, I started going to Andrea Beaty’s local book readings—she’s a Naperville resident.” Conversations with Beaty led to more discussions with her agent, followed by a proposal to the publisher, and a contract in February 2020. In March, the Museum shut down in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, but the staff continued to collaborate via phone calls and Zoom meetings.
The Museum’s exhibit development team presented their ideas to the design team at Architecture is Fun and they refined the experience to create an environment around the interactive ideas. (Quick context: Architecture is Fun is the design firm that served on the team, along with Chicago Scenic, that helped the Museum redesign, repurpose, and rebuild following a devastating flood in January 2015. See full story here: https://www.chicagoscenic.com/.)
“I knew I wanted to work with CSSI on this project,” Stull says. “We had such a positive experience with them doing the exhibit building following the flood. I knew what creativity and professionalism I could expect from them, and I knew what a good fit they were with the designers.”
The new exhibit is located on the Museum’s second floor and features experiences surrounding four of the book characters: architect Iggy Peck, engineer Rosie Revere, scientist Ada Twist, and community leader and advocate Sofia Valdez.
The interactives in each character’s environment help children understand the character’s profession. Budding engineers visit Rosie’s space to create and test rockets and paper airplanes (and use a huge old-school ruler to measure their flight distances) or pilot the life-sized Heli-o-cheese copter. In Iggy’s environment, kids can take selfies in the oversized open book, use large planks to build a whimsical bridge, play with a Brio train and track, or design and build structures on the large table grid.
Small scientists in Ada’s space visit hands-on investigation stations like interactive shelves and ponder science-related questions while relaxing in her special thinking chair. And in Sofia’s environment, families play a life-sized board game that helps them develop math literacy skills and plans to transform a trash heap into a park.
The second-floor exhibits also include a classroom that houses the “Sniff Center”, a popular interactive where kids identify various scents. That classroom space welcomed the exhibit’s newest addition, Aaron Slator, Illustrator; that exhibit debut coincided with the book’s early November release.
One of the exhibit’s key challenges was to keep the budget in line with the development, according to Chicago Scenic’s project director, Ross Hamilton. “We went back to the drawing board a few times”.
All team members were focused on the project’s overriding goal: to stay true to the books throughout the process and create spaces and structural styles that exemplify their playful nature. Author Beaty, along with David Roberts, the book’s illustrator, had input into the graphic development and reproduction; the pandemic required much of that involvement to be virtual.
Beaty visited the exhibit prior to opening and commented, “This is TRULY like stepping right into the pages of our BOOKS!”