In a sense, the international traveling exhibit program provides mobile billboards for The Children’s Museum. It helps raise awareness of the museum among visitors to the institutions that host its exhibits. And the rental fees those institutions pay for the traveling exhibits is used to maintain the exhibits while they’re on the road and develop new ones for the future.
The Children’s Museum first sent one of its shows—Hands Can, an exhibit about the human hand and all the marvelous things it allows us to do, on the road in 1992. Its first stop was the Cleveland Children’s Museum and from there it continued traveling 11 years before being retired in 2003.
Based on the success of Hands Can, The Children’s Museum created a number of other exhibits that went on the road after debuting in Indianapolis. The museum also broadened its geographic reach, sending exhibits to sites throughout North America. It also has communicated with an array of other foreign institutions interested in hosting exhibits in the future, including ones in Europe and the Middle East.
A list of the museum’s traveling exhibits developed since Hands Can includes:
- Flight: Where Adventures Take Off: Developed in conjunction with American Trans Air (ATA), this interactive exhibit, which focused on the history and science of flight, opened at The Children’s Museum in 1995. The traveling version, ATA Flight Adventures, began touring in 1998 and closed its circuit of North America in 2004.
- LEGO® Ocean Adventure: So impressed were officials from the Denmark-based LEGO Systems, Inc. with Hands Can that they asked the museum to create one using their innovative plastic bricks. The result was LEGO® Ocean Adventure, which was unveiled in 1998 and spent the next 9 years traveling the world, finally settling in at its final destination—the Wonderscope Children’s Museum in Shawnee, Kansas—in 2007.
- Kinetosaurs: Putting Some Teeth into Art and Science: Created jointly by the museum and North Carolina-based sculptor John Payne (1949–2008), Kinetosaurs featured 10 mechanical dinosaurs. After its 1999 debut in Indianapolis, the exhibit went on the road, wrapping up its North American tour in late 2004.
- Bones: An Exhibit Inside You: Developed in cooperation with the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Health, with support from Eli Lilly and Company, this exhibit made its debut at the museum in 2001. Focused on the health and mechanics of the human skeleton, as well as the way bones have factored into art and culture around the world, the exhibit was supplemented by objects from the museum’s collection. It toured North America through 2007. Sold to Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, Bones is one of a rotating group of exhibits on display in that venue’s Discovery Museum.
- Bob the Builder™—Project: Build It: A cooperative venture with HIT Entertainment, the production company responsible for the popular PBS television program Bob the Builder™, and sponsored by Delta Faucet Company, this exhibit opened at the museum in June 2006, then started touring nationally three months later. With interest in hosting the show from 50 institutions nationwide, the museum built two touring versions to accommodate demand. While one was retired in 2011, the other was still on tour in 2013.
- National Geographic MAPS: Tools for Adventure: To spur interest in how maps help humans understand the world in spatial terms, which is a key component in geographic literacy, the museum teamed with the National Geographic Society to develop this exhibit, which received $1.4 million in seed funding from Lilly Endowment. After its Indianapolis premiere in October 2006, it moved to The National Geographic Museum at Explorer’s Hall in Washington, D.C., then to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The exhibit, which featured many outstanding artifacts from the museum’s collection, continuedto tour the country through 2010.
- LEGO® Castle Adventure: Developed in partnership with LEGO Systems, Inc., this exhibit made its debut at the Children’s Museum on January 31, 2009, after which it began a tour that has bookings through 2015.
- Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore!: Collaborating with Nickelodeon, the children’s cable television network and creator of the popular animated preschool programs Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go!, the museum developed this hands-on exhibit based around the adventures of Dora and her animal-rescuing cousin Diego. Following its initial six-month run at the museum from February to August 2011, it embarked on a five-year international tour.
- LEGO® Travel Adventure Once again the museum teamed with LEGO Systems, Inc. to create another interactive exhibit featuring the internationally popular LEGO® brick toys. After making its inaugural appearance at The Children’s Museum in the spring of 2012, it began a worldwide tour that is ongoing.