If your kids think history is a yawner, take them to the new Museum of History & Industry, which opens in its soaring new home in the Armory at Lake Union Park on December 29 with a free public day. From an innovative museum design to knee-high-level programs for young visitors to the awesome south Lake Union location, the new MOHAI promises to breathe life into history for visitors of all ages.
I was lucky enough to get a preview a few weeks ago, while staff were putting finishing touches on exhibits. Here are some of the things I think you'll be most excited about.
1. Free for kids. Good news for families is that MOHAI will always be free admission to kids ages 14 and younger every day of the week. The admission price for ages 15 and up is $12–$14, but on the first Thursday of the month, MOHAI will be free. Family memberships start at $80.
2. The Atrium. Upon entering the Armory, visitors walk into a 65-foot-high space called the Atrium, the heart of the museum. It features a wall of iconic artifacts (think Ivar's clam on a unicycle), some of which can be operated by visitors via hand cranks; a stunning, tree-like wood sculpture that vertically runs from ceiling to below the floor to the lake, and a vintage Boeing air mail plane, which hangs from the ceiling, let loose from its formerly confining space at the old MOHAI.
3. The towers. While the Atrium space is so large that it could be overwhelming to younger visitors, the architects designed four towers within that space that will house smaller, more interactive exhibits on both upper and lower levels. Highlights include an exhibit with interactive screens depicting individuals from Seattle's past; an interactive game that allows people to "start" their own business; an interactive floor map that allows visitors to "build a city" and an exhibit on how to build a video game.
4. Family programs. Starting with free admission for kids, MOHAI has expanded its family programs significantly. Several times a month, starting on Wednesday, Jan. 8 from 9 a.m.–noon, the museum will run mini-MOHAI, portable interactive history stations for very ages 3–6. Every Saturday, MOHAI will host a Family Lab from 11 am.-2 p.m., with take-home crafts, collaborative games, and hands-on artifact exploration.
5. Ways for kids to interact throughout. The no-touch, no-run policies of museums can be frustrating for kids, so luckily there are choice opportunities in MOHAI for visitors to do something: They can play a game where they "hammer" railroad spikes together to simulate what it was like to build railroad trestles; they can play a walking, interactive game about civic activism; another that teaches about Chinook Jargon; or another "strike it rich" casino-style game about the Gold Rush.
6. The Lake Union views. Unusual for a museum with artifacts, MOHAI was designed with special screened windows so that visitors would have large and small views of Lake Union throughout the building, which means boats, float planes and more. (Can you say toddler entertainment?)
7. Maritime fun. One of the permanent displays at the museum, Waterways to the World, explores Seattle's maritime history in a space that feels ship-like. You'll find a real lighthouse light, a periscope from a World War II-era submarine that visitors can look through for a 360-degree view of the museum from above the museum, and more.
8. Punctum Poetry. One of the initial MOHAI exhibits, titled Punctum Poetry, displays the results from a months-long poetry project in schools where kids wrote poems based on photos from MOHAI's archives. The results are impressive and, in some cases, a little heartbreaking. (Note: Some oral history components are not appropriate for young kids, but they are marked.)
9. Location, location, location! Lake Union Park is one of those one-stop-shop outings – you get out of your car once and you’re entertained for hours. Start a few blocks away at the Portage Bay Cafe for a heaping plate of pancakes, then grab the Lake Union Streetcar to the park. Watch the boats and the float planes, sail a little wooden boat on the pond for $5, or take out one of the real deals from the Center for Wooden Boats (check out its new exhibit on the history of salmon sport fishing). Then, MOHAI.
10. Plenty for adults and older kids. Explore Seattle's film history with a new "Celluloid Seattle" exhibit. Check out MOHAI's Center for Innovation when it opens in the spring. Go to MOHAI on a Thursday night and take a highlights tour of the museum. Take in a movie at the MOHAI-sponsored Movies at Lake Union Park in the summer.
If you go ...
Hours and admission: MOHAI is open daily a week from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; and on Thursdays from 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Prices are $12–$14 for adults; kids ages 14 and under are free with a paid adult. The first Thursday of every month is paid admission.
Grand Opening: Celebrate MOHAI’s new home at Lake Union Park in Seattle on Saturday, Dec. 29, from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., with a day of artist performances, activities, workshops and guided tours. Admission is FREE, but you need to reserve your timed ticket. Festivities continue on Sunday, Dec. 30, from 10 a.m.–8 p.m., but admission is paid.
Family Day: On Tuesday, January 1, MOHAI is piloting a full roster of new programs for kids and families in 2013; be among the first to try them out. There are admission fees that day, but kids (as always) are free.
Compass Cafe: MOHAI has a cafe on site with a varied menu and terrific views of Lake Union. In nice weather, there will also be a terrace for noshing outside.