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Sesame Street comes to life at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum

Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
February 13, 2003

It's a pleasant urban neighborhood filled with music, new ideas, children's laughter and residents who are a bunch of friendly characters - except for one guy named Oscar, whom they say is a real Grouch.

No wonder everybody's asking, "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?"

The Pittsburgh Children's Museum is bringing to town all the excitement of the legendary PBS children's television series in a traveling exhibit produced by the Strong Museum in Rochester, N.Y. The exhibit will remain in residence on the North Side for four months before heading to similar venues in San Jose, Kansas City, Chicago and other U.S. cities through 2008.

The interactive exhibition invites visitors to come face-to-face with the "Sesame Street" human and puppet characters that children and their families have enjoyed for 30 years - only instead of sitting in front of their TV sets, they will be standing on the famous brownstone stoop at 123 Sesame St.

With the help of technology, kids can sing the alphabet with Elmo, count along with The Count and speak Spanish with Rosita. They can create a craft project, hear a story read to them and actually climb into Big Bird's oversized nest. The lovable big blue Cookie Monster will even pay a personal visit to welcome friends to the new exhibit from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on opening day: Saturday.

Jane Werner, executive director of Pittsburgh Children's Museum, says she is pleased to bring the popular exhibit to the museum, which is undergoing a $28 million expansion project. The project - whose target date for completion is September 2004 - will increase the museum's total available space from 20,000 to 80,000 square feet and extend the facility's location in the Old Post Office Building in Allegheny Center to the former Buhl Planetarium next door, she says.

Werner says the timing of the exhibit's opening provides a good opportunity for families to preview the museum's new space. "We want people to get excited about this project," she says. But even before the expansion work began, she says she knew it was a "must have" for Pittsburgh audiences when she learned of the exhibit several years ago through a network of museum administrators.

"I signed up for it right away," Werner says. "'Sesame Street' is an icon of everybody's childhood." Two previous exhibits focusing on Jim Henson's Muppets in 1995 and 2000 were big successes, she says, and "we wanted to bring that magic back into the museum."

"It's really exciting because it's a complete re-creation of 'Sesame Street,'" Pittsburgh Children's Museum exhibits coordinator Donna Di Bartolomeo says. "You can recognize areas where the characters live and play. Kids can be part of the program they love to watch on TV."

Some of the activities in which children can participate include the Hands-On Minds-On Sesame Street Playground, where kids can play chess and checkers in the park, count movable pigeons on an abacus bar, play sorting games in the A-Z cubby holes under the Central Park bridge, or practice musical scales and notes on a set of steel drums.

There's also the Frontier Phone Booth, where guests can listen to phone messages from their favorite "Sesame Street" characters, and Platinum Platters Music Shop, where they can hear excerpts from "Sesame Street's" greatest hits, including "The People in Your Neighborhood," "C is for Cookie" and the ever-popular "Rubber Duckie."

Performances at the Circle in the Square Cinema include fast-paced compilations of memorable moments from the TV show, while Oscar's Newsstand offers clips of celebrities who have performed on "Sesame Street."

The exhibit is one of the largest rental installations ever obtained for the museum, Di Bartolomeo says. The "Sesame Street" display encompasses 4,500 square feet, she says, compared to a typical exhibit of 1,500 to 2,500 square feet. It also is one of most expensive acquisitions, Werner says.

Scott Eberle is vice president for collections and interpretations at Rochester's Strong Museum, which obtained the rights from Children's Television Workshop, the program's originators (now known as Sesame Workshop), and the Jim Henson Company to open the first permanent three-dimensional learning environment based on "Sesame Street" and to create the traveling version of the show.

A member of the exhibit development team, Eberle says the longevity and popularity of the television series made it a logical choice for an exhibition. "You don't have to acclimatize people as to why they should want to see it or who Elmo is," he says. "'Sesame Street' has been working on that for 30 years."

"Sesame Street" - which airs in Pittsburgh at 6 and 10 a.m. Mondays through Fridays and at 7 a.m. Sundays on WQED-TV (Channel 13) - was a pioneer in children's programming when it began in 1969, Eberle says. Its "staying power" was in its ability to not only entertain, but to educate children - and pull in the interest of adults along the way with guest appearances by pop culture celebrities.

"Sesame Street" visitors such as Placido Domingo, Itzhak Perlman, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Meryl Streep, Queen Latifah, Robin Williams, and dozens of others helped validate the show for parents and older siblings, Eberle says.

"Other children's shows such as 'Captain Kangaroo' were too dependent on one personality," he says. "'Sesame Street' stuck to a simple formula. That's why it was such a phenomenon." In its history spanning three decades, the TV program has won 58 Emmys, two Peabody Awards, and four Parents' Choice Awards, and was the subject of retrospectives at the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art.

Werner says that during its four-month run in Pittsburgh, the exhibit will be enhanced by programming and special events centered on the "Sesame Street" theme. "It's really a delightful exhibit," she says.

CAN YOU TELL ME HOW TO GET TO SESAME STREET?

  1. Opens Saturday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Through June 1
  2. $5; $4.50 for ages 2 to 18 and senior citizens. Includes admission to museum and "Sesame Street" exhibit
  3. Pittsburgh Children's Museum, 10 Children's Way, Allegheny Square, North Side
  4. (412) 322-5058 or www.pittsburghkids.org

TIMELINE PARALLELS SESAME STREET FIRSTS

When "Sesame Street" debuted on public television on Nov. 10, 1969:

  1. Woodstock - the event, not the cartoon character - was on people's minds.

  2. U.S. troops were stationed in Vietnam, not in Afghanistan.

  3. Our country was celebrating Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, not mourning a space shuttle disaster.

The "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?" exhibit at Pittsburgh Children's Museum will give visitors an opportunity to follow a timeline stretching through the display that depicts milestones in the creation and development of "Sesame Street" from 1969 to the present.

Scott Eberle of the Strong Museum in Rochester, N.Y., the producing museum of the traveling display, says the timeline shows how historical events in some ways paralleled events on "Sesame Street." For example:

In 1971: At the same time "All in the Family" debuted on CBS, "Sesame Street" characters Maria and Luis brought bilingual education to their Fix-It Shop.

In 1983: At the same time Lebanese terrorists killed 241 U.S. Marines, actor Will Lee (Mr. Hooper on "Sesame Street") died, and show producers used the event to explain death to its audience.

In 1992: At the same time President George Bush and Russian president Boris Yeltsin proclaimed a formal end to the Cold War, "Sesame Street" was reaching 92 percent of white, Latino and African-American preschoolers living in poverty.

TOUR DATES

2003

  1. 2/22-6/1 Pittsburgh Children's Museum, Pittsburgh, PA
  2. 6/28-11/30 Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, San Jose, CA
  3. 12/20-4/4/2004 Chicago Children's Museum, Chicago, IL

2004

  1. 5/1-9/19 Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito, CA
  2. 10/23-2/13/2005 Kansas City Museum, Kansas City, MO

2005

  1. 3/19-7/10 Available
  2. 8/1-9/6 Refurbishment in Rochester, NY
  3. 10/2-1/15/2006 Available

2006

  1. 2/4-5/28 Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Fort Worth, TX
  2. 7/1-10/22 Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA
 
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