PEABODY — CuriousCity, the city's pop-up children's museum, with its giant storybook, Discover City where kids can design and make things, and miniature George Peabody Co-operative Bank, was supposed to close at the end of the month.
It has proven so popular, however, that it will stay open through August, Mayor Ted Bettencourt said this week.
The museum's popularity has bolstered the mayor's conviction that a children's museum could work in Peabody and help with the ongoing revitalization of the downtown.
It was a concept that city officials and business people saw at work in Dover, New Hampshire, where there is a successful children's museum. The mayor felt the concept could work in Peabody, given its easy access to major highways.
"I've been thrilled with the results," Bettencourt said.
Since it opened at the end of March, the museum has attracted more than 4,000 visitors from 99 communities, including people from out-of-state.
"It was more successful than we possibly could have imagined," said library director Melissa Robinson, who helped to launch the museum as part of the Peabody Cultural Collaborative.
The pop-up features hands-on, play-based exhibits. It was initially funded through a $28,000 grant from the Essex County Community Foundation to the local cultural collaborative. It opened March 31.
It cost about $100,000 to stage. Other donors included the J.B. Thomas Lahey Foundation, North Shore Bank, Eastern Bank and the Peabody Cultural Council.
The museum is targeted at kids ages 2 to 10, with exhibits focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts, math, literacy and the interaction between kids and adults. Danvers-based Northeast Arc, which works with children with intellectual and physical disabilities, helped create a sensory room called Cozy City for those who may feel a bit overwhelmed by their museum experience.
"I think it really fits a need for a constructive learning space for kids," said Robinson, adding that it's been especially popular with families with children ages 2 to 6.
Robinson noted that the museum has an affordable admission price, $5. (Tickets can be purchased at www.curiouscitypeabody.org/buy-tickets and they must be purchased in advance for a certain time slot.) But free passes are available at libraries in Peabody, Danvers, Boxford, Middleton, Topsfield and other communities.
A permanent home?
To make way for CuriousCity, exhibits at the George Peabody House and its related Leatherworkers Museum were placed in storage. That, however, is not something that can work for the long term.
So where could a permanent museum go?
One possible location is the former St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 12 Washington St., a more than half-acre property the city purchased along with the adjacent rectory at the start of 2016. The property contains about 54 parking spaces.
Another possibility is 2 Washington St., the vacant, city-owned O'Shea Mansion, Bettencourt said. This spring, the city issued a request for proposals for a developer to buy the mansion for $750,000 and preserve the iconic structure, but there were no bidders.
Bettencourt said those properties were purchased as part of a long-term strategy to revitalize the downtown.
The mayor envisions the museum being run by the city, and with Robinson spearheading the effort so far, he said the library would play a role.
Others that may play a role in a permanent museum include the school department, the Peabody Cultural Collaborative and other partners, such as the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce. Others partners in the pop-up include Peabody TV, the Essex Agricultural Society, Peabody Main Streets and Salem Five Bank, among others.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.