For nearly 20 years, Louisiana Children’s Museum CEO Julia Bland has overseen a generation of young New Orleanians growing, playing and learning. While most of that tenure was at the museum’s Julia Street location, Bland is now at the helm at the brand new, state-of-the-art City Park home. Bland cut the ribbon and opened the doors on August 31, ushering in a new start for the museum and a new class of kids.
Q: What was it like to close the big blue doors on the old location? It was quite emotional. People have been asking us for a couple years how we are planning to honor the many childhood memories on Julia Street, so I was fully aware that closing those doors was representative of closing a very dear chapter on thousands of people’s childhood memories. Having my youngest grandchild in my arms made it easier, for sure!
Q: What favorite exhibits will be making a return to the new location? We could not begin to think of opening a new museum without a grocery store or the bubbles exhibits, so those will be with us in a wonderful new way at the new museum. Our Infant – Toddler space, called Play With Me, will be really magical and also builds on the decades-long foundation at Julia Street. Instead of an exhibit on the Port of New Orleans, we will have an exhibit on the Mississippi River, a 100 -foot long water table in the Move With The River gallery. It will certainly be a new favorite!
Q: What are some of your favorite new exhibits that families can look forward to at the new location?
It’s a long list! The Infant-Toddler space, Play With Me, is really beautiful and filled with natural inspiration from southeast Louisiana, and creates a fabulous environment for building language skills. Most importantly, we will be working with parents here as they grow into their role as their child’s most important teacher. The Sedimentation Table in the Dig Into Nature gallery will be mesmerizing and quite fun, while teaching about how we save the Louisiana coast. Our new exhibits are filled with local culture and “fingerprints.” The Follow That Food gallery takes the favorite memories children have of shopping for food and cooking food, and connects it into a full sequence of growing to buying to cooking to serving to eating – in a beautiful setting. And, Mr. Okra’s delivery truck is a highlight in this space. There are two beautiful animated stories created by talented New Orleans children, and I’m very proud of the way we have incorporated children’s art into all our graphics. Outside our Toddler Landscape is a fabulous location where you could easily spend a day!
Q: What does it mean to you to have the museum location in City Park? Back in 2006 when we began imagining what a new Louisiana Children’s Museum might be, we had a few important criteria: it had to be accessible in a location where everyone felt welcome, it had to be in a location where we could surround children with beauty (if you are surrounded by beauty you learn what is beautiful), and we were determined to build a much deeper understanding of sustainability in its many definitions. City Park is one of the most beautiful locations in the region, readily accessible and used by everyone in the community. The setting of the Park was ideal for the many sustainability stories we have prepared to tell and share. We feel extremely fortunate – and do not take that for granted.
Q: Over the years, have you seen kids’ and parents’ museum expectations change, or are they universal from year to year? What I have learned is that the expectations can change from day to day. Sometimes a family may come for a special date of play and engagement, and sometimes the parent simply needs to exhale! While children love the predictability of their experiences with us, and grow into richly layered learning opportunities, parents may be looking for “something new.” With open-ended experiences we are assuring our guests that there is always something new, while revisiting the familiar favorite is anticipated joy! We are hoping that our new spaces will keep parents off their phones, unless they are capturing memories of time well spent.
Q: What does it mean to you to be such a big part of the lives of children growing up in New Orleans? To play a role in so many lives is thrilling and humbling. Whether we simply provide some quality time for a child to share with his parent or grandparent, or we launch a lifelong love or even a career (stories we have heard again and again,) it is a thrilling responsibility. The Louisiana Children’s Museum offers a rare opportunity for families of young children to come together with a common cause – to play and to learn. We are really a Big Tent or a Town Square – we see guests from all backgrounds who are there because of their children. It is an honor to be a steward of those precious years and experiences.
Q: Now that the museum is open are you going to take a vacation? I’ve often said that the real work starts when we open our doors. This project has always been about making a positive difference in the lives of our children, and I can’t wait for the next chapter. We have been imagining over many years how children and their parents will respond to what we’ve created, so now the fun begins. It will be a vacation of sorts to simply focus on the museum being in one place – a quite magical place.
Born/raised: Johnson City, TN (birthplace), Knoxville, TN (grew up.)
Education: Webb School of Knoxville, Newcomb College of Tulane University.
Favorite book: “The Languages of Food” – a beautiful book documenting young children from Reggio Emilia, Italy as they study food.
Favorite movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.
Favorite food/restaurant: Acorn – our new café with the most spectacular setting and delicious food.
Favorite museum: The Louisiana Children’s Museum – I can’t get enough of it!
TRUE CONFESSION: “I used to love white whitewater kayaking! A category 4 rapid was an ultimate achievement of mine.”