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Desert Companion

Lied: a museum with smarts on the move

Watch for Lied Discovery Children’s Museum to step up its profile in the community in coming months. Why? A move. The 20-year-old institution hopes to raise $12 million to move into its new digs in Symphony Park, next to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. When it reopens there in late 2012, it’ll be a big change for the nonprofit museum, literally: At 58,000 square feet, the new site — freshly christened the Discovery Children’s Museum — will be nearly twice the size of its current home.

But one of the most important changes has already happened. In recent years, Lied has quietly been making a subtle but crucial shift, honing its mission to focus on doing much more than giving kids a chance to smoosh some Play-Doh and blow a few bubbles.

“We’ve focused on exhibits that are socially relevant and highly educational, while also meeting community needs,” says Linda Quinn, CEO of the museum.

If you thought children’s museums were about colorful, outsized, interactive “edugames,” you’d be right. But in recent years, Lied has sharpened its curatorial instincts even more, meticulously tying exhibits to state educational standards and school curricula. It’s also stocked its staff with pros boasting education resumes, and pumped up both its community outreach and relationship with schools, nearly doubling its 2010 visitorship in the process. And then there are some of its exhibits that have some surprising social heft, such as its current traveling feature, “Torn From Home: My Life as a Refugee.”

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No wonder Lied execs joke that they’ve come a long way from Clifford the Big Red Dog and Curious George. Indeed, you might call Lied less a children’s museum these days and more a sort of educational fourth estate. To get more information on the museum’s move, visit www.nowtowow.org.

For more ways to smarten up your kid — and yourself — check out “Get Smart Now” on page 53.

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