Founder of children’s museum is on to new adventures
GLENS FALLS Jacquiline Touba, founder of Go!, the World Awareness Children’s Museum in Glens Falls, retired as its executive director on May 1, but she really doesn’t think of herself as retired.
She’s a museum consultant and jewelry artist. She’s working on a community book project and plans to write a memoir. Touba is also spending more time with her grandchildren.
A scholar, author and curator, she has been honored by the Girl Scouts as a “Woman of Distinction” and the Soroptimists gave her their “Making a Difference for Women Award.” In 2009, she was recognized as a “Woman of Distinction” by the New York State Senate.
Touba was born in Syracuse and grew up in Lansingburgh, near Troy. After graduating from Syracuse University, she studied at Leiden University in the Netherlands and then went on to Purdue University, where she earned her doctorate in sociology and city planning.
In her first career, she was a professor and sociologist.
For 10 years, Touba taught sociology and was a researcher at Tehran University in Iran.
She lived through the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and in 1980, she and her Iranian husband, Riza Touba, whom she met while a student at Purdue, moved back to the United States.
In 1985, Touba left the academic world and followed her dream of bringing the world together through knowledge and appreciation of other cultures.
In Glens Falls, she started the International Arts and Culture Association. Three years later, her International Youth Art Exchange Program began collecting children’s original artwork from other countries and sent artwork created by American kids around the globe.
In 1995, the IACA became chartered as the World Awareness Children’s Museum, and over 16 years, it operated out of three different locations in Glens Falls.
Determined to find a permanent home for the museum, Touba led a $1.7 million capital campaign to purchase and renovate a building at 89 Warren St., near the Hyde Collection art museum.
In July 2011, the museum opened its doors and added Go! to its name, to represent its new interactive exhibits, from a Chinese dragon boat to a Nigerian marketplace, that take children on a trip around the world.
Today, the museum collection includes more than 7,000 works of art created by children from 79 countries and more than 5,000 artifacts from 140 countries.
On June 3, Beth Wales of Clifton Park, started work as the new director.
Q: What about WACM makes you feel especially proud?
A: That the museum has its own home and its own facility. We’re an established entity, and our mission has not changed in terms of raising awareness and introducing children to diversity.
Q: Where did all the artifacts come from?
A: Once we became a museum in 1995, a lot of people began donating artifacts. When the Schenectady Museum was deciding to change its focus to science and technology, they transferred a lot of their ethnic objects and costumes to us as well. And then we have people who spend a lot of time in other countries. They also want to find a home for their things, and sometimes they are things from two or three generations past.
Q: So you expect the collection to continue growing?
A: Yes, but there may be more selection. We can’t take everything.
Q: How are the art and artifacts stored?
A: When we designed the new building, we designed a whole large space for the art and another large space for the artifacts. And we do have possibilities for expansion.
Q: What have you been doing this summer?
A: My grandchildren are here from Australia. We have one daughter and three grandchildren, 2, 6 and 9.
Q: You have worked as a consultant?
A: I do museum assessments with the American Alliance of Museums. I did one about two weeks ago in Oregon. They are like peer reviews.
Q: And your community book project?
A: It’s called “Bridging Cultures: Muslim Journeys” and it’s going to be every three weeks at Crandall Public Library. It’s a National Council for the Humanities Project. Lots of communities are doing it. It is raising awareness of Muslim cultures through Middle Eastern writers. There are certain books that everybody is going to be reading. And then there will be a discussion of each of those books. There’s one book from Iran called “Persepolis.” It’s a graphic novel, it’s a different approach, using cartoon characters. Two of the books are from Morocco. There’s one from Syria, one from Lebanon. Crandall Public Library asked me to be the project scholar. (“Bridging Cultures” begins on Sept. 19.)
Q: You make jewelry?
A: Yes. I sell the jewelry out of Albany International Airport [gift shop].
Q: What do your pieces look like?
A: They incorporate silver components from many countries. They are one-of-a-kind pieces.
Q: What will your memoir be about?
A: I would like to write up my experiences during the (Iranian) revolution and the hostage crisis. I would like to go back and reflect on some of the things that happened to me personally during the revolution.
Q: Did you see the movie “Argo”?
A: I haven’t seen it. Eventually I will see it. I’m in no rush. I was there when it happened.
Q: Children’s museums have changed quite a bit, haven’t they?
A: They have. You know there are a lot of children’s museums that are mainly play-oriented and for younger children. And then for the bigger ones, it seems to be science-oriented. Then there are some that are sort of in-between. You’ve got the very big museums that are high-tech and they have some cultural things in them, like the Boston Children’s Museum or the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. But the smaller museums usually go one way or the other.
Q: Is WACM the only one of its kind in the United States?
A: There are couple of other culturally oriented children’s museums around the country. Most of them do not have these kinds of collections of children’s art. In the past, we have loaned our art to major museums, like the Philadelphia Children’s Museum and the Seattle Children’s Museum. I would like to see more museums incorporating the children’s art, our collections, into their exhibitions and into their operations so that there could be a cultural aspect rather than just play.
Q: Do you speak other languages?
A: I taught in Farsi, so I speak Persian. I used to speak Dutch because I did my master’s work in the Netherlands.
Q: What are your hopes for the museum’s future?
A: I really want the museum to flourish. I don’t want people to think of it as my museum.
It is a regional museum, it’s not just for this area. I would hope that more people in the Capital Region would come and visit because it’s not something they have in the Capital Region. We also have The Hyde Collection, which is just down the road. And LARAC is here, and the Chapman Historical Museum. And the Shirt Factory now.
Q: Will you still be connected to the museum?
A: I’d like to help out with some research on the artifacts and art that we have.
We really need to do that.