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Enjoy South Valley Living

Getting Creative at Visalia's ImagineU Interactive Children's Museum

Dec 22, 2015 09:43PM ● By Brandi Barnett

Oh, Imagine the Things They'll Do!

January 2016
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Brittany Wilbur

The ImagineU Interactive Children’s Museum has been a Visalia fixture for more than a decade, offering children opportunities to engage with science, art and technology. The museum, which had long occupied a former car dealership in the north end of downtown Visalia, makes a lot of valley kids (and their parents) very, very happy.
   
“There’s not another children’s museum of this caliber or this size within three hours of any direction of Visalia,” says Cheryl Christman, the museum’s executive director. “We just really brought together a very grassroots organization that brought together exhibits that were donated to us or which we constructed ourselves and created something out of nothing that the children just loved.”
   
The museum was founded in 2002 by Angela Huerta, and thanks to a grant from the State of California, the New ImagineU moved out of the old car dealership and opened the doors of its new 15,000-square-foot building last fall.
   
In 2011, California Parks and Recreation offered ImagineU a $5.4 million grant for new construction.

A testament to ImagineU’s mission and success, the grant was one of the largest of just 40 awarded – out of
800 applicants.
   
With that money, ImagineU was able to more than triple its space.
   
Of course a bigger building is always better, but what really makes an interactive museum has a lot more to do with what’s inside the building. With that in mind, the museum partnered with Fresno’s Monster City Studios to help bring to life designs for new interactive exhibitions.
   
“They really transformed everything that you see at the museum,” says Christman, who describes the result as “fantasy exhibits.”
   
Christman is talking about exhibits like the Oak Tree Clubhouse, a 17-foot-tall structure that children can climb by using sturdy platforms inside the tree. Kids can also use binoculars to find animals that are hidden throughout the tree and the museum.
   
The Grove Pick and Pack is an especially popular exhibit, where kids can pluck oranges from an orchard of fantastic trees, which they then place on conveyer belts that transport the fruit to a packing center. From the packing center, children can insert the oranges into a tube that “magically sucks them up” and puts them back on the trees.

An interactive U-Fix It Garage allows children to play at fixing cars, and a 69-foot water exhibit called Wonderful Water “shows how water comes down from the mountain, down to our rivers and streams, and how the dams work,” explains Christman. And don’t forget every parent’s favorite exhibit: the Imagination Station, where children can color and paint on seven-foot glass walls – better to get it out at the museum than save it for home.
   
Perhaps the biggest testament to the museum’s popularity with children is the tantrums they sometimes throw when mom and dad say it’s time to leave. Christman says with a laugh, “They’re crying when they leave.” So it’s obvious the kids enjoy ImagineU, but the best part is that they’re learning, too. “Studies show,” Christman says, “that children and adults learn when they’re doing something and actively involved with an exhibit or activity.”
   
Children and adults, it’s important to note: ImagineU doesn’t have to be just for kids. “Children’s museums tend to bring communities together,” explains Christman, and ImagineU wants to make itself a meeting place for this community.
   
While the new building is open for business, the museum is still working on the next phase of construction. “We are still raising funds so we can complete phase two by next summer,” says Christman. This will include “a multipurpose room where we can make it available to community for events and weddings and birthday parties.”
   
Christman hopes other non-profits will use their campus as “an affordable venue for their fundraising events,” as a means to further tie the community together.
   
Though phase two is still a few months away from completion, the kids don’t seem to mind. The museum is getting more traffic than ever. And with people lining up at its doors before the museum even opens, it’s probably safe to say that Christman is right: A children’s museum is a place that brings community together. •

ImagineU Interactive Children’s Museum
210 N. Tipton St., Visalia • (559) 733-5975
Find them on Facebook and Instagram
Museum hours:
Monday – Friday: 10am – 5:30pm
Saturday: 10am – 5:30pm
Sunday: noon – 4pm