PITTSBURGH – Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood just got a bit bigger – and a lot more fun.
Anyone who ever wanted to don a cardigan and sneakers, watch Picture Picture or take a trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe now has a chance in an expanded and more playful exhibit honoring children’s most trusted friend at the revamped Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
The Mr. Rogers’ exhibit is a main attraction at the museum, which reopens Saturday after a two-month, $28 million expansion that quadrupled its size.
The expanded museum, now more than 80,000 square feet, begs visitors to play – from the articulated cloud, a screen that ripples in the wind above the new entrance, to interactive video installations that allow visitors to “catch” raining letters, to water exhibits that allow visitors to build boats and sail them through locks and dams or be a plumber (it’s more fun than it sounds).
“We think that a lot of learning comes from play. It is how a lot of children learn about the world, and all of us, too. We wanted to make the best play experiences that we could,” said Jane Werner, executive director of the museum. “My kids are 11 and 15, and they had a good time. They’re a little jaded, they’ve been to a lot of museums, but they’re engaged.”
The expanded Neighborhood, which was King Friday’s Castle in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe in the previous exhibit, is no different. From a television set hanging above the entrance, Rogers – wearing his signature cardigan – welcomes visitors to the Neighborhood and sets the tone for the exhibit, describing it as a place to “think about, talk about or play about all kinds of things.”
Before entering, Mr. Rogers says it might be a good time to give whoever brought you to the museum a hug.
David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on the show, said the exhibit embraces Rogers’ idea of “permissible regression.”
“It is OK from time to time to remember your childhood and remember what a good time you had,” Newell said. “When we started brainstorming, Fred especially didn’t want it to be behind glass. We wanted kids to be able to play. Fred always said that a child’s play is their work.”
Inside there’s a closet of cardigans and sneakers intended to let children – and grown-ups within a certain size – pretend to be Mr. Rogers or whatever grown-up they please. Also hanging in the closet is a blue cardigan Rogers wore on the show around 1970.
After that, visitors can play where or how they want. A replica of the trolley to the Land of Make-Believe sits in the middle of the exhibit, acting as a gateway from Mr. Rogers’ house – including Picture Picture and the fish tank – to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, complete with King Friday’s castle.
Visitors have a chance to make and watch their own live version of the show using two modernized, closed-circuit television cameras.
Jane Werner, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Children’s Museum, shows how visitors to the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood exhibit will be able to try on a cardigan sweater.