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New Mission, Broader Reach Planned for Please Touch Museum

The Philly kids' favorite unveils a plan to help it move into the future.

Less than a year after emerging from bankruptcy, the Please Touch Museum has a new mission statement  — and a fresh plan to improve one of Philadelphia children’s favorite places.


Museum CEO Patricia Wellenbach unveiled the new plan, called “Please Touch Museum 2020,” at the Union League Cafe on Friday. The William Penn Foundation funded it to help the museum find a new path after coming back from several rocky years financially.


The new mission statement is simple: “Change a child’s life as they discover the power of learning through play.” With that statement, the museum is also making a promise: “To be a leader in 21st century children’s museums as a key resource of learning through play, and expand our reach and impact in the Philadelphia region and beyond.”


“We are in a decidedly critical time for the future of our children, and children’s museums are rising to meet an ever-growing need to support and provide early learning that builds a foundation for success in the 21st century,” Wellenbach said in a press release. “Driven by our new mission and promise, Please Touch Museum will answer that call.”


The museum, which began as the tiny brainchild of Montessori educator Portia Sperr at the Academy of Natural Sciences, celebrated its 40th birthday last year. Now, new plans are in the works, with some new points of emphasis to help the museum set a standard for children’s museums in the future. It all starts with innovative new exhibitions and events that focus on skill-building and understanding in today’s world, while promoting each child’s strengths and potential.


That means revamping some of the museum’s exhibits. But there are bigger ambitions and responsibilities laid out in the report, too, including increasing access to the museum, fostering research partnerships, and being a good steward of Centennial Hall — the museum’s historic home — and the surrounding Parkside neighborhood. Also on the list: fiscal responsibility, and investing in the museum’s long-term stability.


More than 490,000 people visited the museum last year, including more than 65,000 children and families in need who received free or deeply discounted admission. In addition, more than 16,000 Philadelphia schoolchildren enjoyed the museum for free. But in a city with the highest deep poverty rate in the country, the museum plans to do more to help local kids, especially through the schools. 


Some of the changes are already in the works. The museum opened a Bassetts Ice Cream-themed exhibit last summer, and the popular Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia emergency room is getting a makeover, and will reopen for the Presidents Day weekend — also the final days of the current Mr. Potato Head exhibit.


In 2019, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan’s feature exhibit, “America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Far and Near,” will come to Philadelphia. And the museum is creating an original exhibit, “Centennial Innovations,” to showcases Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition for modern audiences.


Photograph courtesy of the Please Touch Museum. 



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