Playing to Learn: Tanya Saine Durand ’93

Twenty years ago, Tanya Saine Durand ’93 and her colleagues at the nonprofit Children’s Museum of Tacoma found themselves wondering if their jobs—their mission—should continue to exist. After an unsuccessful fundraising campaign and a steep rent hike, the museum was facing substantial debt. “We were in this very humble place of asking the community, ‘Should we shut our doors?’ And resoundingly, folks said, ‘No. This is a valuable asset. We just need to strengthen it.’”

Today, Durand leads a thriving organization that is essential to countless families around Pierce County. It has evolved beyond the museum—a hands-on space dominated by five “playscapes,” from a woodland-themed area for physical exploration to a water space in which kids investigate how things flow, sink, and float—to include a childcare center, outreach programs, and, soon, the only children’s museum on an American military base.

Serving as its executive director was not at all the career Durand envisioned when she arrived at Puget Sound as an undergrad in 1989. She figured she’d major in business, but soon found that her art history classes “were the courses that really made my heart sing.” An internship at the Tacoma Art Museum affirmed that passion, and after graduation she joined the children’s museum as development director before becoming executive director in 2000. It was then that she and her staff started seeking answers to those tough questions about the museum’s future.

The answers led Durand and her team back to the idea of what best met the needs of Tacoma’s kids. The focus grew beyond the physical museum to the establishment of two preschools: The Muse, a childcare center; and Play to Learn, a free outreach program for children and their caregivers at libraries, community centers, and other locations. With these and other initiatives—including a location at the U.S. Army’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, to open in late 2020—the museum recently announced the creation of Greentrike, an umbrella organization for the museum and its many offshoots.

Oh, and that name? It’s probably not a coincidence that its meaning is intentionally ambiguous, echoing Greentrike’s philosophy that learning should be child-guided: Let the kids figure out what it means. It’s their museum, after all.

 

By Ryan Jones
Photo courtesy of Tanya Saine Durand ’93
Published Feb. 13, 2020