The Children's Museum, Inc.

New Times gives a tour of the Miami Children's Museum and its corporate exhibitisements -- for kids of all ages!

Casagrande says the AYM does takes a firm stand against sponsorship from liquor and tobacco companies. Spiegelman says she, too, has drawn a line in the corporate sand. “I had a fast-food chain that wanted to go into the museum,” she relates. “They were selling me on the [idea that] fast food has nutritional value, it has nutritional content. [They said], “We can tell a great story.' Spiegelman had to put her foot down. “It wasn't part of the mission of the museum and the script of the museum and the educational component.” Which fast-food chain? She wants to keep it a secret! “I don't feel comfortable saying,” she says.

There is a surprise at the Port of Miami exhibit that's no secret, though. It's on the second floor. Time to escape from Kidscape Village. Let's go!


Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton
Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton
Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton
Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton

The Port of Miami exhibit probably is the -- how do you young people say it these days? -- baddest of them all. For example, it's where you'll meet a fish called Irony. But first, why don't we review what you've learned about corporate branding. And what better place to do it than on the -- surprise! -- Carnival cruise ship. Here's how the directors describe the exhibit in an issue of their newsletter: “The Port of Miami [exhibit] -- a place of water-based commerce, a hub of trade, and an important embarkation point for travel and adventure -- will serve as the backdrop for multicultural exhibits. Visitors will be able to explore a giant Carnival cruise ship (yes, you can climb inside!).”

Like Publix, Carnival has a monopoly at this port (unlike the real Port of Miami, which you can see, once you leave the museum and look out across the channel to the south). Know how you can thank Carnival for the fun ship? Ask your parents to take you on a real Carnival cruise adventure! They're not that expensive, really.

One reason why cruises are not very expensive is because Carnival pays a lot of its cruise-ship employees very little for their hard work. You can check out the engine room in this exhibit, but we dare you to find any of those employees. Many of them come from poor foreign countries and don't see their own little boys and girls for months at a time. Did you know these workers often labor fifteen hours a day, seven days a week? They're also forbidden from starting a union, which is sort of like a student council, to fight for better working conditions, because if they did, they would get fired. So watch your step while you're in the pretend-job component of this exhibit. If you make believe you're a janitor trying to organize a union, you might get thrown right off the ship and flown straight to Saint Vincent!

Maybe it's time to walk down the gangplank to the gantry crane activity, another part of the Port of Miami exhibit. You may have seen real gantry cranes towering in the sky above the real port, where workers use them to lift cargo containers on and off ships. You can't get anywhere near those cranes (because the port workers there are allowed to have a union), but here at the exhibit, you can operate miniature ones. It looks like fun but think twice about making it a career. It gets awfully tedious!

You've probably been wondering about that fish with the funny name. Irony is back down on the first level, swimming around beneath the hull of the cruise ship at the Port of Miami environmental reef exhibit. When you get there, can you spot her? She could be the one that looks a little sick because even the cleanest cruise ship still pollutes a lot. Just think of all that soapy water draining from the hundreds of sinks and showers onboard. (Carnival calls this gray water.) Not to mention the toilets. (Carnival calls this sewage.) Where do you think Carnival empties all that stuff? Yep, in the ocean. Guess where all the cargo ships that go in and out of the Port of Miami dump theirs, too?

If you ask the museum attendants to find Irony in the environmental reef exhibit, they'll probably look at you as if you're crazy. But she's there all right. When you get home, ask your parents to look up her name in the dictionary. It means “incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.”

Don't worry if it's a little hard for a kid to grasp. But educators like Paula Harper think adults should know better. “Children are least able to resist all of these blandishments,” she says. “And they're least able to understand that what's in front of them is a pretty mixed message that's teaching them to respect or to accept certain corporate presences, but without having the awareness to realize who's doing it and why. There's a motive there that's not really for their benefit but for the benefit of the image of the corporation.”

“I think that we are delivering many, many valuable educational messages to children,” Spiegelman offers. But she admits the museum also is delivering other messages. “We want to be sensitive to what the donor wants,” she adds.

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