Southampton Town offers a wellspring of museums—with lauded institutions in Water Mill, Sag Harbor, Southampton and beyond, but the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE) in Bridgehampton is the only one wholly dedicated to the next generation of East Enders.
Founded in 1997 by a group of local mothers discontented with the educational opportunities available to their young children, CMEE began as an organization that ran pop-ups and children’s programs at various community centers, such as the Bridgehampton Community House. “Initially, it was what we call a museum without walls,” says CMEE President Stephen Long. “It didn’t have a home for its first seven or so years.” It wasn’t until 2005, after years of fundraising and a dedicated capital campaign, the museum officially opened its doors at 376 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.
CMEE offers a plethora of creative learning activities and attractions, many of which utilize East End iconography to teach children around the ages of six months to nine years about the place they call home. Some of the highlights include an art studio, the CMEE Diner and Food Truck, hand puppets, a reading nook, a village of imagination and dress-up, a nine-hole mini golf course, a garden and much more. And there’s an outdoor playground in the works too.
“Children need play the way all humans need oxygen. It’s the way their brains develop and grow,” Long notes. “To see the work that we do affects me personally. I love how [the children’s] faces light up and how I’ve seen them develop their gross motor skills…To hear from other families how they’ve seen the same impact on their own children, that’s what I find most compelling and what really excites me about the work that we do.”
CMEE also had three computer stations for kids in years past but has since removed all screens from their activities and encourage families to follow suit. “Children are exposed to screens at home, at school, at the library—you name it—there are screens being used all the time. This would be a place where we encourage families to keep their screens in their pocket,” Long says. “Screens have saturated so much of the lives of families that this could be an oasis away from it.”
Much like its “museum without walls” days, CMEE doesn’t operate solely in one location. “Anywhere there are children in need who would benefit from the work that we do, we make sure that we go to them and make it available,” Long says. The organization offers programming on and off campus through fellow nonprofits reaching underserved families such as The Retreat, Riverside Rediscovered, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and Head Start. Among them, The Retreat’s life-changing job skills training course helps women affected by abuse re-enter the job market, while their children romp about CMEE, learning art, gardening and sharing skills from jovial play.
With next week’s annual Golf Outing promptly sold-out, Long is eagerly looking ahead to Member Appreciation Day on Sunday, October 13. “What I really love about our Member Appreciation Day is that we provide a wonderful time for our members, but it’s also an opportunity for us to thank them for helping us serve families who don’t have the access that a lot of us do.” With 40% of the museum’s annual budget coming from annual memberships and $12 admissions, raising awareness of memberships is vital to the instrumental work they do. At $110 for unlimited museum admissions and discounts to classes and local businesses, Long considers CMEE membership to be one of the “best deals in the Hamptons,” and it’s a deal that greatly enriches and improves the lives of East End children.
To learn more about the Children’s Museum of the East End, visit cmee.org.