Eureka! New exhibit opens at Children’s Museum

It’s a must-see, must-play!

News Flash: You don’t have to be a child to have a great time at The New Children’s Museum. All you need is a willingness to set your own inner child loose in “Eureka!” an artful new exhibition that explores the many sides of the Golden State.

The NCM’s mission is to stimulate kids’ creativity and critical thinking by offering delightful experiences with contemporary art. If you haven’t yet been there, the building itself (designed by Rob Wellington Quigley) is a delight, with its imaginative use of fresh air, natural light and multilevel spaciousness. And it’s green, too!

“Eureka,” which opened with a VIP preview Oct. 16, welcomes visitors in with “Globos,” a huge golden balloon hanging overhead in the atrium. The brainchild of Collective Magpie, a pair of UCSD-MFA grads whose border fence made of origami birds was a hands-on hit at the 2013 WoW Festival at La Jolla Playhouse, is made up of triangles of gold tissue paper folded by hundreds of folks from San Diego and Tijuana — a nice way of showing the connectedness between Alta and Baja California. Also overhead are images of the border, seen from both sides, and on the museum’s second floor, a “Making of Globos” video that shows how to hold ‘em and fold ’em yourself.

Kids and adults connect in the motion-activated sound-playground of ‘Orange We.’ Maurice Hewitt

During my hours at “Eureka!” I watched a young boy dig for gold nuggets in a beachy sandbox, climbed Alison Pebworth’s four-story “Reconnecting to Home” Tower for an expansive overview, pushed a small car along the mini-freeway of Roman de Salvo’s Desert Derby, and viewed myself dancing to the sounds of “car-a-oke” sung by someone inside a full-size, musical Mercedes.

Does “Eureka!” stimulate creativity and critical thinking? Not really. Most of the artists’ statements went unnoticed by visitors — myself included — who simply enjoyed the fun of it all, and didn’t get to ruminating about where our water comes from, or the meaning of home, or the shadows over the sandbox. We just wanted to play, often with whoever else was playing, too. It could be interesting if the notes we dropped into the mail chute in the Tower were picked up and read aloud — perhaps even responded to? —by someone at the bottom, creating a real connection.

Five-year-old Declan Koerper discovers gold in the Sandbox Gallery. Maurice Hewitt

One of my favorite pieces, Nina Waisman’s motion-activated sound-playground “Orange We,” is actually a holdover from “Feast,” the museum’s last exhibition, about food. Another favorite, “The Rain House,” by the late Ernie DeSilva, was originally made for the old Children’s Museum and recreated for the 2008 opening of the new one. Both seemed right at home among the Eureka! installations. Unlike much of California history, the old doesn’t have to be removed to make room for the new.

‘Desert Derby’ is a mini-freeway over a waterway, with a wall-size photo of Lake Hodges in the background. Maurice Hewitt

As an overgrown child, I had my most creative moments in a clay-modeling session with teaching artist Charles Thunyakij, where I produced a small, oddly-shaped cup that I got to take home. I didn’t have any Eureka! moments, sudden revelations of the deeper meanings of California culture. But I loved the look and feel of the installations, and the chance to get down and be playful in an art-filled environment seems like a good enough reason for children of all ages to visit “Eureka!”

If you go: Eureka!

What: On view through 2016 at The New Children’s Museum

Where: 200 West Island Ave., San Diego

Contact: (619) 233-8792.