Since the Children’s Museum of Manhattan was founded as a grass-roots organization in 1973, more than a generation of young visitors have explored its exhibitions — on everything from bodily functions to the nuances of Japanese culture — with many returning years later with curious little ones of their own.
Now the museum itself is growing up.
On Dec. 22, it completed the $45 million purchase of a new home: the former Church of Christ, Scientist, at 96th Street and Central Park West. Although the site is little more than a dozen blocks from the museum’s present West 83rd Street location, the space is leagues away in what it can accomplish.
The new building, set to open at the end of 2021, will be almost double the current museum’s total space: 70,000 square feet, up from 38,000 at the old location, which the museum has leased since 1989. It is also expected to double annual attendance, to 750,000 visitors from the 350,000 to 375,000 the institution now serves.
The new quarters will focus on “four areas that we consider critical to a child’s development,” Andrew S. Ackerman, the museum’s executive director, said in an interview: arts and creativity, early-childhood programming, health education and cultural literacy. Exposing young children to different cultures is vital, he said, “especially before the age of 7 or 8, when they begin to really firm up their attitudes toward people different than they are.” Covering all those subjects simultaneously, he noted, is “what a new building will enable us to do.” (He said he anticipated a gap of just a few months between the old location’s closing and the new one’s opening.)
The museum just ended the run of a groundbreaking show, “America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far,” which explained Islamic life to the very young. Mr. Ackerman said he would have preferred to have two such cultural exhibitions up at once, to “cross-fertilize,” but has not had the space. He said the museum also wanted to mount more shows like “Art Inside Out” (2002-3), which invited children into installations by the artists