My children are older, so I rarely visit children’s museums these days. The Terra-cotta Warrior exhibit drew us to the renowned Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and since we had to buy a general admission ticket to see the Chinese warriors, we decided to explore.
We bypassed most of the madcap areas that I associate with children’s museums. Those areas where children are encouraged to interact, though I’ve rarely seen them do so with any purpose. They run, scream, jump, shoot water, splash, scream some more, cry, climb on top of anything in their path and see how many decibel levels they can create in one mad swirl of toddlers versus nine-year-olds. It is a headache in the making. And the Indy Children’s Museum had plenty of areas like this.
Luckily, they had a few calmer areas, too, with truly educational exhibits. Not surprisingly, there were few children in these exhibits. (They were busy splashing in water and running through the maze of mirrors.) It’s too bad for them, because there was one exhibit in particular that was extraordinary and worth the price of admission all by itself. It was an exhibition of three children whose lives had an impact on the world: Anne Frank, Ruby Sparks, and Ryan White.
I have to be honest; I’d almost forgotten about Ryan White. But as soon as I saw his picture, his story and the fear and alarm surrounding AIDS in the 1980’s came rushing back. For those unfamiliar with his story, Ryan was an Indiana boy who contracted AIDS through medication for his hemophilia. People were terrified of him. Parents pulled their children out of school and demanded that he be removed from the classroom. He was expelled and fought valiantly to educate people on AIDS awareness, which made world news. Another school system allowed Ryan into their schools and some of the museum displays included notes from his new classmates, welcoming him. It was truly touching.
Each of the three exhibits included a room related to that person. In Ryan White’s case, they’d recreated his bedroom and it was a poignant reminder that he was just a boy, leading a typical teenage life until this tragedy befell him.
The same sort of school discrimination happened to Ruby Sparks, too. She bravely marched into a Louisiana classroom alongside federal marshalls as adults screamed obscenities and threw things at her. She was shunned so much that hers became a classroom of one. Her teacher abandoned her post at the front of the room and instead taught Ruby 1:1 at a desk next to hers for an entire year. That classroom setting is the museum room dedicated to Ruby’s story. A live performance took place in the classroom every few hours, featuring a federal marshall who described what it was like to walk young Ruby into school every day. It definitely made you think about the bravery of that little girl and her parents.
Most people are familiar with Anne Frank’s story, but a one-woman live performance in a pretend attic room brought her spirit to life. We saw a bookcase that opened and then video footage of what that space in the Anne Frank house actually looks like. A young woman came on stage and talked about the joy and hope and the minutiae of her days. Like Anne herself, she stuck with her stories of hope. It made you realize that Anne was just a normal young girl trapped in the horrific circumstances of her time.
I absolutely loved this Power of Children exhibit and could have spent the entire day in these rooms. The displays were well-crafted and appealing to both children and adults. The live performances was a tremendous addition and brought these young lives to life. I think the exhibition sends a powerful message to children that they can have a strong impact on the world. I’d love to see this exhibit expand even further to include more children whose stories of courage and hope have touched millions of lives.
Who would you include if they added more children’s stories to this exhibit?