The long-awaited Santa Barbara Children’s Museum finally broke ground at its 125 State Street address on Wednesday in a ceremony unveiling the museum’s new mission and name: MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation.
Donning construction hats and flanked by bulldozers, naming benefactors Dick and Noelle Wolf joined Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, MOXI board president Jill Levinson, and MOXI board first vice president Chris Kroes with shovels in hand, symbolically breaking ground on the science and technology-focused site destined to be what speaker and emcee Andrew Firestone called a “playground for the brain.”
The 25,000 square-foot, LEED-certified museum-to-be will feature interactive STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) exhibits, plus a Smart Classroom, a New Media Theater, Museum Store, and rooftop Sky Garden, all intended to inspire curiosity and excitement for the sciences among students. With a building design envisioned by late Santa Barbara architect Barry Berkus and carried on by AB Design Studio, and exhibits crafted by award-winning museum planning firm Gyroscope, Inc., MOXI will be Santa Barbara’s answer to hands-on learning museums like San Francisco’s Exploratorium, supporters declared. “This is so needed in the city,” Schneider said. “All kids of all ages will benefit tremendously, and I am very proud to be a small part of it.”
MOXI is slated for a summer 2016 opening and is expected to attract 95,000 visitors a year. Board members say MOXI will host more than 15,000 school children a year for a Common Core program, and all local students who visit will receive a free Family Pass. Organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Transition House, Girls Inc., and Storytellers are already in talks to develop after-school educational programs.
“Without doubt, this will be a beloved resource,” museum executive Sheila Cushman said. “Kids 2 to 92 will want to come to MOXI to learn about science and math, and it will help bring more business to lower State Street.”
Cushman, who previously served as Director of Education at the Natural History Museum, strove to develop a contemporary museum that was not only progressive in design but also in accessibility, expressing her “sincerity in making the museum for the entire community.” MOXI will feature discounted admission to students of Title 1 schools as well as on-the-floor interpreters for Spanish-speaking families.
The museum has been a long time coming. The groundbreaking ceremony came seven years years after the City Council first approved the project in 2007, and decades since the city has housed anything of its kind (a much smaller Children’s Museum existed in a La Cumbre Plaza retail space in the early 90s.) The MOXI project saw its share of setbacks, including an ongoing battle over bidders for the property, as well as the statewide dissolution of Redevelopment Agencies, which left the museum’s location and financial future in a state of uncertainty.
Now the museum has raised over half of its $25 million fundraising goal. Nancy Sheldon, third VP on the MOXI Board, expressed her deep gratitude for the “overwhelming reception” from early contributors and community supporters, and urged potential donors to contribute for the sake of their children’s future livelihoods. “We talk about the sustainability of the building, but what about the sustainability of our children’s futures?” she said. “The county is struggling in the STEM fields. We have a hole there, and that’s where the jobs are going to be.”
Law & Order creator and namesake contributor Dick Wolf felt motivated to contribute in part due to our nation’s flailing math and science school programs, ranked 27th globally. “Being a second class nation intellectually is a truly scary prospect,” he said. “We are not going to have anything made here; we are going to become a country of importers. [Science education] is an absolute necessity. It’s in our own self-interest.”
A tearful and very grateful Noelle Wolf expressed her hope that the Wolf Museum will give Santa Barbara students a chance to learn about and explore future science career opportunities they otherwise may not have had exposure to. “When doors open, anything is possible, so being able to open the door for kids in the county is the best gift of all,” she said.