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The Importance of Preserving How We Play with The Strong National Museum of Play: tBR Company of the

Play is training for the unexpected.” -Marc Bekoff, Contemporary American biologist

For people everywhere, 2020 was a most unexpected year. But throughout it all, we played. And through play, we explored new ways of connecting with each other and sharing our creativity, whether by converting board games to video chats or communicating via driveway chalk drawings. And that’s why the history of play is important. It shows how we all work together to continue to meet the challenges and unknowns of the future with hope, community, and creativity.

So when the pandemic resulted in The Strong closing to the public last March, we worked to continue to provide the services our audiences needed to help cope with the pandemic, all the while remaining committed to maintaining the long-term stability of museum programs and initiatives. We provided virtual programs and crafts on our social media channels, and launched the Play Stories Project, where we collected stories, photos, and videos documenting the unique ways people played and stayed connected throughout the pandemic. Our staff also remained busy on special projects, such as transcribing interviews from our Women in Games annual events and a set of 1986 oral history interviews on the history of Parker Brothers. (Both are available via our Preservica Universal Access portal.)

And when we did reopen to the public last June, we developed a comprehensive set of safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for our guests and employees. We worked to meet new challenges, launching The Strong School Club to act as a site for students’ remote learning, and continued our initiatives and efforts celebrating play, with a virtual rollout for our 2020 National Toy Hall of Fame induction of Baby Nancy, sidewalk chalk, and Jenga.

And as we look to the future, The Strong continues to explore the power of play and new ways to share its important history with the world. Following the induction of Baby Nancy, the museum held a virtual panel discussion with experts and the community organizers who helped form Shindana Toys, the company behind the breakthrough 1968 Black baby doll. They detailed the history and significance of the trailblazing company, which focused on community development and diverse representation in its product line so all children were represented in the toys and games they played with. The museum also published four new online exhibits in 2020, including one on Shindana and its product line. This was part of an effort to connect with our audiences virtually, which also led to our Cocktails with the Creators series, a live, interactive online discussion featuring influential and creative innovators in the toy and game industries alongside the iconic objects they helped bring into the world. The most recent is an interview with Toy Industry Hall of Fame inductee Tom Kalinske (SEGA, Mattel, Leapfrog). Keep an eye out for more on the way!

For 2021 and beyond, The Strong has major projects underway that will enable us to better preserve and exhibit the history of play. In addition to the many challenges of 2020, the museum also navigated the continuation of plans for a major addition to our 285,000 square foot building. Through Powered by Play: A Campaign for The Strong, we’re expanding our facilities to add a parking garage and 90,000 square feet of additional space for new exhibits and collections storage. This will be part of the development of a Neighborhood of Play—a vibrant, walkable neighborhood that will revitalize Rochester’s downtown area with the museum at its heart. We completed our parking garage early last year and will be holding a groundbreaking for the expansion next week!

The future is bright, but it is sure to be full of many more unexpected twists and turns. And so The Strong National Museum of Play will encourage us all to continue to play and look to our playful pasts so we can prepare for tomorrow. In all that we do, The Strong will continue to celebrate play—the toys, the games, the stories, all of it. Because every piece is a story of how we played then, play today, and will continue to play.


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