One-year-old Liloo is always first in line for the Bass Museum of Art’s Bass Babies class, said her grandmother Ronnie Oppenheim, 66. It is in this art class that Liloo learned about sensory perception and that apples are not only for eating, but for painting.
The class used apples and star fruit, dipping slices in paint and stamping them onto blank canvas.
The grandmother, who studied early childhood education and art history and worked as a first-grade teacher, said it was through activities like these that children learn about art.
“We think we offer a pretty neat program,” said George Lindemann, president of the museum. “But if people don’t show up, it’s not as great as we think it is.”
The museum’s children education program has reached full capacity, however, and has a growing waiting list. The museum said that it’s because of this high demand that it is requesting $7.5 million from the city of Miami Beach to fund an internal expansion.
“Although the wait list is awfully flattering and attests to the quality of the program, we would really like to accommodate everyone from our community,” said Silvia Cubina, executive director and chief curator of the museum. “We feel like we are maxed out and ready to serve more people.”
Cubina said that for every student in a class, there are two more children on a wait list. The museum plans to increase its program’s capacity by 124 percent. The programs currently serve just over 44,000 children and plans to have a capacity of about 99,000 after expansion.
The expansion would add two classrooms next to its 750-square-foot Lindemann Family Creativity Center, where classes and workshops currently take place, as well as an after school program.
The museum says it has nearly 18,000 square feet of programmable space and that it’s proposing an 8,490-square-foot expansion.
“The expansion will use spaces that are currently underutilized,” Cubina said. “It’s about tweaking, not building new space.”
Construction would convert hallways, unused ramp space and an outdoor terrace into classroom space. Each classroom would accommodate at least 25 students each, and the larger space would accommodate up to 40 students.
“Right now, rooms are small and classes are capped,” said Annhy Shim, 38, whose 3- and 7-year-old sons participate in Bass programs. “You really have to be on top of it to get your kid into a class.”
The project would allow for simultaneous scheduling of classes and an increase in staff. The children education program has a full-time staff of three, but Cubina said this would grow with the program.
Cubina said the program’s biggest supporters are the children and their families.
“I think our participants showed the commission how popular the program is with compelling stories about their children and their experiences at the Bass Museum,” Cubina said. “I hope they are compelling enough that they will grant us the funds.”
Shim said the museum is an underused, under-recognized “gem on the beach.”
“There are not enough cultural institutions in the Miami area that offer these art programs,” Shim said. “It’s amazing to see what the children are being exposed to and encouraged to create.”
Many say that early childhood education ensures better performance in school.
Angela K. Salmon, associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University, said that art programs promote children’s thinking.
Adrienne von Lates, Ph.D., director of education at the museum, agrees. “The earlier you expose children to forms of creativity, the better successes in school and life. There’s a tremendous difference in children that partake in early learning.”
While Miami Children’s Museum offers early-education classes like the Bass, Lates said there are not enough programs in the area to serve the growing number of families.
“What are the 800-something kindergartners enrolled in Miami Beach schools doing before they reach kindergarten?” Lates said.
Lates said the program wants to give Miami Beach families options for their children.
According to Cubina, if the proposal is approved, money will be budgeted and expansion will begin in April 2015. She said the museum would plan for a multiphase project to keep the program open to students during construction.
The cost of the educational and exhibition programming after the expansion would cost more than a million a year, which Cubina said will be raised from public and private funds.
The proposal is set to be considered by the commission this month.
“We want to provide a service to a significant portion of beach residents in an area that is underserved,” Lindemann said. “We want to advance creativity and culture on the beach.”