A MUSEUM ON A MISSION
Portland Children’s Museum was founded by visionary Dorothea Lensch in 1946 as part of Portland Parks and Recreation. The Museum is now the sixth oldest children’s museum in the country and each year the Museum welcomes more than 316,000 children from birth to age ten and their caregivers.
The Museum opened as the “Junior Museum and Adventure House,” and programs included natural history displays, arts and crafts classes, and a pet lending library! As research on children’s early learning expanded in the 1970s, the Museum’s focus shifted to one of hands-on, experience-based learning. Though much has changed, arts and crafts like those taught in the 1940s continue to delight children and families today.
The Downtown Portland Rotary spearheaded a capital campaign that raised $10 million to move the Museum to Washington Park in 2001. This successful effort led to the renovation of the old OMSI building, a space five times the size of the former Lair Hill location. With the help from Rotary and a successful partnership with Portland Parks and Recreation that continues today, the new facility endowed the Museum with accessible program areas, space for a café and store, and a large amount of new exhibit space, a traveling exhibit hall and performance areas. At the same time, the Museum became officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Since the move, the Museum has hosted over 1.6 million visitors from across the country and the world, is home to Opal Public Charter and Museum School, and has become a regional resource for early childhood development. Within the Museum Center for Learning, educators are studying the needs of young children and the kinds of environments and approaches to teaching that inspire children to grow and learn.