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Waukegan pop-up museum: Fun in full force

Isabella Ohrvall, 3, of Great Lakes paints a picture Feb. 17 at the Kohl Children’s Pop-Up Museum at 220 W. Clayton St. in Waukegan. Isabella was at the pop-up museum for the first time with her mother, Jennifer.
Isabella Ohrvall, 3, of Great Lakes paints a picture Feb. 17 at the Kohl Children’s Pop-Up Museum at 220 W. Clayton St. in Waukegan. Isabella was at the pop-up museum for the first time with her mother, Jennifer.

WAUKEGAN – It was hard to tell who was having more fun: the parents or the children. 

The Waukegan pop-up museum by Kohl Children’s Museum is entering its fourth and final week, but the fun is still going strong as parents and children explored the four hands-on exhibits Feb. 17. 

Fathers helped make elaborate forts out of giant blue foam building blocks at the Imagination Playground. Mothers co-painted original works of art at the art station. And children were fascinated by it all. 

“It’s so fulfilling to see the amazing happiness on everyone’s faces,” said Kohl Museum’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations Dave Judy, who greeted every guest at the door. 

Kohl launched the pilot program at the beginning of February in an effort to reach families and communities that might not have easy access to their home site in Glenview, roughly 45 minutes away from Waukegan and other northern Lake County neighborhoods. 

Since it opened Feb. 3, families have loved the free entertainment the pop-up museum offers, and several have returned for more than one day of fun. 

Waukegan resident Dan Anders watched his 3-year-old son Tom marvel at the Air-Mazing air station. It is an intricate design of tubes transporting knotted balls of yarn through loops and swirls before dropping them back to the floor for kids to pick up and start the whole process again.

Anders said he had brought Tom to the pop-up during its opening weekend, but they were back for more fun. 

“I think it’s great to have it here in Waukegan because there’s not a lot to do here for kids, especially in winter,” he said.

Maren Davis, a Gurnee mother of two, sat at one of the art tables collecting masterpieces as fast as her children were completing them. 

“I think it’s a great way to let kids explore art and hands-on experiences,” she said. “There’s a lot of different things to do and see.”

The pop-up museum consisted of several stations, including the Imagination Playground and Air-Mazing Station – an exhibit, Judy said, that was designed specifically for the pop-up museum. Children also could enjoy a puppet theater, arts and crafts station and “Chagall for children,” a traveling exhibit the museum typically rents out for events. 

Jennifer Ohrvall from Great Lakes was visiting for the first time with her children, and she said they were already planning on returning for a second time. 

“It’s awesome,” she said. “My daughter’s been to every station. My son actually just started walking; he took his first steps here. It’s been great.”

All the exhibits at the Waukegan pop-up were specifically designed and selected to incorporate the elements of S.T.E.M. learning – science, technology, engineering and math, said Stephanie Bynum, Kohl’s vice president of programs. The art exhibit, she added, was included as a tie-in to the city’s monthly ArtWaulk. 

Bynum said that when conversations first began with Waukegan city officials about the pop-up, the idea was to design a smaller setup at City Hall. After Mayor Sam Cunningham visited their Glenview location, however, he insisted they needed a larger facility. 

“He was playing there with the kids,” she said. “We had a hard time getting him off the museum floor, he was having such a good time. That’s when he said we really need to think about setting something up with Urban Edge. We need more space than what City Hall could provide.”

Now entering its fourth and final week of the pilot program, the pop-up museum will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25.

Given the positive response they’ve received from both families and the community, Judy said the museum hopes the pilot program will evolve into a permanent – and free – traveling extension of the museum. 

“(This pop-up) so directly meets our mission to providing services and providing opportunities for children to spark that love of learning right in their backyards,” Judy said. “And provide tools and opportunities for parents to keep that flame going at home. That’s really why we’re here.”

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