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by Neil Pifer
Hands On! Children’s Museum
Nestled among the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Hendersonville, North Carolina is best known for its delicious apples. Being just outside Asheville, this quaint community also offers visitors the best of Western North Carolina with a small-town charm. For the area’s children and their families, both local and visiting, Hendersonville is also home to The Hands On! Children’s Museum whose ongoing mission is to inspire children in STEAM. While the organization’s dedicated team has been fulfilling this mission for well over a decade with its interactive exhibits and hands-on programming, their reach is about to grow exponentially in coming years with a three-phase renovation project slated for completion later next year. We sat down with Executive Director, Joseph Knight, and Programs and Exhibits Coordinator, Kellie Spinks, to learn more about this exciting project and what it means for the future of the Hands On! Children’s Museum and its community.
“We are designing the museum to be a multi-generational learning experience that will captivate the minds of young and old alike,” beams Executive Director, Knight, who goes on to share that the renovated and expanded space will include new exhibits being designed by Design Dimension Inc. out of Raleigh-Durham that are appealing and relevant across all ages. One of the most exciting new features will be a People’s Museum and Walk of Fame that will showcase the diverse history and culture of the community. Knight and Spinks underscore the passion the museum feels to foster equity in their community. “During times of such varying emotions around this, many in our community wanted a resource to teach them about culture and race,” added Knight. Programs and Exhibits Coordinator, Kellie Spinks, who has been instrumental in the development of the People’s Museum grew up in the area, and that has fueled her inspiration. “Growing up here, there has not always been an awareness [of diversity] in our community, and in many ways, this remains the case today,” Spinks reflects, and she hopes the People’s Museum will expand hearts and minds for those that visit. For Kellie, this means that community representatives and mentors of diverse backgrounds are key to the design of their exhibits. For example, in one section highlighting the Cherokee people of North Carolina, native community members have been consulted to inform the exhibit’s representation. This includes preserving knowledge of the Cherokee language and their legacy of stories. Acknowledging that integrating more generationally inclusive exhibit spaces does have some safety considerations, Knight, emphasizes that the People’s Museum will be a distinct and separate section of the facility.
When asked what resources Hands-On! had for fellow formal educators, Knight noted that they are still recovering from the impacts of the ongoing pandemic, but their strategy is to build for the future. Not only are they renovating their facility, but they are also rebuilding their staff which could illuminate new employment opportunities within their community in the near future. “The next year  will come with a whole new menu of programs for The Hands On! Children’s Museum, but even more exciting, the renovation will poise the facility to be a field trip location,” exclaims Knight, elaborating that the facility itself was formally too small to accommodate large school groups. This will expand on the work they have already done with area partners such as libraries and schools within their county. Knight adds, that with the renovation, there is also a reaffirmed commitment to connecting content with State and National standards.
The Hands On! Children’s Museum is located at 318 North Main Street Hendersonville, NC, US 28792, and is slated to reopen to the public in early October. To learn more about their plans for the future, see their public statement on the renovation project.