By the time the doors of The DoSeum officially opened on Saturday morning, almost every inch of the 104,000 sq. ft. dream-learn-play space had been covered, previewed, and toured during preceding months. Media and VIP groups had seen the space fully decked out in all of its kid-centric glory in preparation for the grand opening. However, all of the previews and tours lacked one key ingredient: the throngs of children that bring the exhibits to life.
On Saturday that magical ingredient finally arrived. The wonder and curiosity of children flooded the DoSeum and proved just how special the space really is (see photo gallery above). While Saturday hosted an almost sold-out day (there are stil som available for 7 and 7:30 p.m., plenty of Sunday tickets, $10, are still available, sold again according to certain time slots.
In a testament to the brilliant design of the exhibits, children of all ages easily used the tools and instruments to create, explore, and learn with little or no explanation – though a small army of cheerful volunteers and staff were on hand to assist. The inherent creativity of children was also demonstrated as many of the exhibits were explored in ways that no one could have planned. Tots loaded groceries from the Little Town H-E-B into the beds of foot-powered trucks. Tweens leaned out from staircases to build onto wobbly towers of foam blocks. Kids all over the DoSeum made the space their own, which is exactly what CEO Vanessa Lacoss Hurd and her team intended.
“We have the most incredible team of any nonprofit in the city,” Hurd said to the crowd gathered for the ribbon cutting.
From the beginning, the entire day celebrated children and the promising future they have in a city committed to providing world-class resources for their education and enjoyment.
Fr. David Garcia opened the morning with a blessing, and set the tone for the whole event.
“Especially giving thanks to God for the wonder of children,” Fr. Garcia said.
The ribbon-cutting was thick with local leaders grinning from ear to ear as they celebrated the six years of work leading to the opening.
“How lucky we are to live in this great city on the rise,” said DoSeum board chair Joan Collins Wyatt.
Throughout the requisite speeches and donor acknowledgements, Hurd kept the main audience, the children, in mind, even thanking them along with their dignitary parents.
“Thank you, Jonah, for bringing your dad,” Hurd called out to Jonah Nirenberg, son of Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8).
Council members Alan Warrick II (D2), Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Rey Saldaña (D4) were also in attendance, as well as Mayor Ivy Taylor.
“My hope of course, is that projects like this continue to find success in our city,” Taylor said.
To further celebrate the museum’s emphasis on creative learning, San Antonio poet laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero read a poem inspired by her own sneak peak at the DoSeum.
Winell Herron of H-E-B represented the heavy business support behind the project as well. H-E-B made it possible for tickets to the grand opening weekend to be sold at a reduced rate.
“Our company commitment to education comes from the very, very top of our organization,” said Herron.
After the somewhat giddy formalities, a group of children facilitated a countdown, and the doors of The DoSeum were opened. Volunteers efficiently moved people inside and the fun began.
Among the crowds was my own Urban Baby, Moira. Watching her move through The DoSeum impressed me all the more, because at a mere 14 months, there was something to stimulate her brain in every room.
Naturally, the docents and volunteers pointed us immediately to Little Town, a miniature town built around the San Antonio Children’s Museum favorite, Molly Trolley. Moira hopped in a foot-powered taxi, closing the hem of her dress in the door, just like her mother. We moved around the town past an airport, veterinarian, and carwash. Complete with a door-free Scion. She found a shopping cart and wandered aimlessly a while through the aisles of the little H-E-B, again disturbingly reminiscent of her mother.
While we weren’t surprised that Little Town appealed to its target audience, we were more impressed that the various learning laboratories for creative storytelling, geography, and physics had such broad appeal. Moira eventually found herself sharing a favorite spot in the storytelling exhibit with Wyatt, who herself was having a riot of a good time with the equipment.
Under the weight of the thick crowds, the DoSeum proved the many virtues of is massive square footage and ample equipment. Even little Moira, who is pretty easy to trample, had plenty of chances to use the most popular toys and equipment.
In the special exhibit hall, three San Antonio Symphony musicians created a “petting zoo” where children were invited to pluck the strings of a violin, manipulate the trombone slide, and otherwise try to make music with the professionals. For the most part we had that attraction to ourselves, and the musicians nearly had Moira holding the violin properly by the time we left.
One might expect the size and intensity of the DoSeum to guarantee a headache for parents. However, it is intentionally designed with a waxing and waning energy. We found plenty of quieter corners to take a breather after leaving more high-octane exhibits like the rambunctious PowerBall Hall.
“I like that there are some quiet, more peaceful spots,” said Angela Rabke, while her three children played in the wild outdoor water works complex.
Rabke’s husband Trey Rabke was on the Lake/Flato Architects team that designed the gentle spaces into the building, as well as its showcase sustainability.
During the ribbon cutting ceremony, County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) praised the sustainable design, calling it “an example of smart and responsible infrastructure.” Calvert’s office assisted with the engineering complexities created by the DoSeum’s location in the flood plain.
By far Moira’s favorite spot was one of the quiet spaces, the patio on the east side of the building. She relaxed and enjoyed the shade surrounded by a water catchment system collecting condensate from the air-conditioner, a gabion wall, and trees. While I’d like to think that’s her parents’ ethical sensibilities rubbing off on her, it probably had more to do with the wading stream, where she was allowed to take off her shoes and walk around in the flowing water, just deep enough to cover her tiny feet.
By the time we left, with one sleepy toddler hanging from my husband’s neck, our list of “Things Moira is Interested In” had doubled in size. For the parents and teachers who make the most of this resource, the DoSeum could be vital in their quest to inspire kids. It has a hook for every learning style, from the diminutive data-heads to the budding creatives marching to their own little drummer. Every exhibit employs kinesthetic and hands-on learning, which will enrich the discovery experience for all kids, and may prove revolutionary for some.