A Children’s Museum in Westchester

Is Westchester a “bedroom community”?  I struggled with this question when I first came to Westchester from Boston some twenty years ago.  Naysayers told me I was coming to a bedroom community.  Obviously, a bedroom community is where you sleep…that’s all. What would I do at night or on weekends?   The search committee at ArtsWestchester, then the Council for the Arts in Westchester, proudly gave me a cultural plan report that was done in 1987, which concluded that while Westchester was no longer just a bedroom community, it still sadly suffered from that image. I discovered that far from being a bedroom community, Westchester is a happening place filled with arts, music, culture, recreation, restaurants, and a roster of arts venues that would be the envy of any metropolitan region. Being so spread out geographically was the problem, and putting all these amenities together to present its huge critical mass was the challenge.

Now, with 20/20 hindsight, it’s clear to me that our cultural landscape is even richer than it was years ago. There’s the addition of the Jacob Burns Film Center, the Taconic Opera Company, Axial, Playgroup and Hudson Stage theaters, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Blue Door Gallery, and the White Plains Performing Arts Center. And others like the Clay Art Center, Music Conservatory of Westchester, Westchester Philharmonic and more have grown and expanded. There’s hardly a reason to look elsewhere for culture.

And now, drum roll please, we have the long awaited Westchester Children’s Museum adding its luster to the comprehensive roster of cultural places here. Some thirteen years in the hatching, the museum is emerging from its early beginnings as a Museum Without Walls to a real space at the old circa 1928 North Bathhouse at Playland Park. The community is ecstatic as is Tracy Kay, the museum’s director and Corine Zola, the board president.  Kay already has a key to the City of Rye from his tenure as  director at the Rye Nature Center.  He’ll now be getting a key – along with a ten-year lease – to the 22,000 square-foot bathhouse, which, alas, has no heat or electricity.  “Aye, there’s the rub.”  But, fear not.  The board of the museum is dedicated to the idea that Westchester, like any other major cultural location, deserves its own children’s museum complete with interactive displays that encourage kids of all ages to discover art, science and the environment, and they are prepared to move mountains to transform that bathhouse into a discovery center.

With a museum for children on its way, how could anyone think of Westchester as a bedroom community?  It’s beyond my imagination!

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