The new Sun Sprouts Fort at Marbles Kids Museum, which opened this week, was definitely a community effort.
The project launched in May as Marbles announced its first online crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo.com. That effort came with an incentive: A pledge from Triangle Moe's Southwest Grill to match every donation up to a total of $15,000.
Donations, starting at $25, rolled in and, within about a month, the $15,000 goal was surpassed. Along with the crowdfunding campaign, Moe's match and donations from museum visitors, Marbles was able to raise about $33,000 toward the effort. Then came the in-kind donations in materials, labor and expertise from a variety of local businesses and a fort-raising fiesta in late July.
Now it's time to play. The fort opened this week inside what's now called Sun Sprouts, which is found out the doors next to the pirate ship on the first floor.
The circular structure, designed by JDavis Architects, sits at one end of the garden and is designed to look like a sprout or something getting ready to bloom. Decking surrounds a portion of the structure, which cantilevers out over the existing wall. Two Japanese maple trees have been incorporated into the design, offering a leafy destination for pretend play.
"This is going to be a place for kids to explore," said Chris Alexander, Marbles' director of exhibit production. "We'll let [kids] decide how to use the space."
The project expands the downtown Raleigh museum's outdoor space. Museum leaders hope it will pull more people outside for outdoor play and lessons about where our food comes from.
The garden features a variety of flowers, vegetables and other plants, along with regular programs that focus on backyard exploring, cooking and gardening. In fact, last fall, Marbles hired a full-time program specialist - Marianne Carter-Maschal - to run the garden's programs. Some of those programs had spilled indoors because there wasn't enough room in the garden for all of the people they drew.
"This gives us another space," Carter-Maschal said. "The programs kind of outgrew the space."
The garden still has Power Flower, a 22-foot tall giant flower that's powered by the sun, and its popular teepee. A new mural was unveiled in the spring.
Museum leaders hope the fort, which juts out into the museum's courtyard, will be a new draw to get kids to spend more time outside when they're at the museum ... and excited about what they might find in their backyard when they get home.
"This just adds to the attraction," said Maureen Bowman, director of play programming, of the new fort.
The garden will host the Backyard Explorers program from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., every Friday. Garden Gourmet is every third Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. (Marbles is open late on Thursdays when admission is $2 per person from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Carter-Maschal also will offer daily activities all year.
"I'm excited to see the way [kids] interpret and make up their own narratives," she said.
Play inside the fort and garden is free with Marbles admission, which is usually $5 per person.