San Diego museums neurodiversity
Pods called “puddles” will provide shelter for children and families to cocoon at the New Children’s Museum. Photo credit: thinkplaycreate.org/

The New Children’s Museum has commissioned an Oceanside artist to create a sensory friendly installation for neurodiverse patrons.

The first phase of the installation, Breathing Room, opened in June. The second, completed phase will be unveiled Sept. 10.

The downtown San Diego museum will host an artist reception at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when artist Michelle Montjoy will share the creative process behind Breathing Room.

The installation is a quiet space on the museum’s main level. The first phase welcomed visitors with calming blue, grey and white colors and hanging textile sculptures made of repurposed T-shirts that gently move up and down, replicating breathing cycles.

Since the first phase in June, Montjoy and the museum have observed how visitors engage in the space. That led to modifications, including additional elements such as the artist’s creation, Hugs – oversized, stuffed sweater forms with weighted arms that offer a comforting embrace, and Pods – organic knitted forms that children can climb into to read a book or take a calming break.

To complement the intent of the new space, the museum has created a digital Sensory Guide with Xenia Sholl from Sensory Friendly San Diego.

The guide includes 3-D tours, audio clips and visual guides to help guests with neurodiversity, autism and other special needs navigate the museum, typically a highly interactive environment.

The guide, also available Saturday, will direct those guests to spaces and services best suited to them.

The opening coincides with the museum’s Accessibility Mornings series, held on the second Saturday of every month at 8:30 a.m. The program provides free access to the museum for families that would benefit from a sensory friendly experience an hour before the venue opens to the public.

Families attending Accessibility Mornings on Saturday will be the first to experience the completed Breathing Room.

Montjoy’s installations include textiles and sculptures, while utilizing socially engaged practices. The former public school art teacher’s work has been shown at MCASD, Art Produce Gallery, San Diego International Airport, the Oceanside Museum of Art, Athenaeum Music and Arts Library and more. 



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Ellen Bullock