Now at ABQ Museum: Henson’s ‘Imagination’

By Nicolas Maxwell-Parra & Micah Turman / NM News Port /

“Imagination Unlimited,” a travelling exhibit depicting the legacy of Jim Henson, the man who brought the world such children’s programs as Sesame Street and the Muppets, is now open at the Albuquerque Museum. 

This is not the first time Henson and the Muppets have made their presence known in the state. Henson owned more than 300 acres of land outside of Santa Fe. Also, New Mexico has made appearances in several episodes of Sesame Street and the Muppets movies. 

To go along with the opening of the exhibit in November, local radio station KUNM broadcasted their weekly show, “The Children’s Hour,” live from the museum. Featured on the show was Cheryl Henson, Jim Henson’s daughter. 

“Both of my parents were artists and creators,” Cheryl Henson said, “they really encouraged us to learn a lot of skills for making things.” 

Cheryl Henson said she worked closely with her father from a young age. She is now the president of the Jim Henson Foundation, working with her siblings to run the organization their father established. 

Jim Henson died in 1990. To this day, his children and company still create children’s educational programming like “Dinosaur Train” and “Splash and Bubbles”. 

The exhibit reflects on Henson’s life and work and impact on popular culture, starting in 1955 with “Sam and Friends,” where Kermit the Frog made his debut.There is memorabilia from Henson’s film and television career, ranging from footage from lesser-known films like “Time Piece,” to the actual puppets used in his shows.

Sesame Street celebrates 50th anniversary 

Sesame Street is a large portion of Jim Henson’s contribution to the world. The show is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and the exhibit reflects on how it has impacted communities around the world. 

In 1969, partnered with fellow creators Jean Gantz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, Henson helped bring children’s educational television to a mainstream audience on the newly launched Corporation for Public Broadcasting system. 

Albuquerque native and museum attendee Barbara Cambell said she has seen the effect Sesame Street has had on the world.

 “I like how an inanimate object can connect with kids,” she said. “I have friends who have come to the United States and used Sesame to learn to speak English.” 

In New Mexico, where education statistics currently rank the state 49th in K-12 education, programs like Sesame can be a contributing factor in helping children transition into school. Programs like “Kindergarten, Here we Come” provide children the tools to prepare for school. 

According to a study by the American Economic Journal, the inclusion of Sesame Street in a child’s upbringing improved their performance in school as well as in the workforce later on in life. 

Hollie Lovely, coordinator of education outreach at New Mexico PBS, said she sees the importance of preparing children to excel in learning. 

“School readiness is one of the strongest indicators of a child’s success,” Lovely said. “Sesame is something that has played a supplemental role in preparing children for school since its introduction in 1969, and continues to do so 50 years later.”

As reported by PBS NewsHour, the show was designed to benefit children of lower-income communities who faced tougher challenges in school. This awareness led to diversity in the show cast and in the puppets themselves.  

To this day, Sesame is tackling topics that are facing children outside of school readiness — even creating a muppet with parents who are incarcerated, a problem that is faced by children across the country. A study done by The National Institute of Justice said that children of incarcerated parents were more likely to have low educational attainment. 

Lovely said Sesame Street is trying to increase its presence in the digital age and reach more children in more ways. 

“Sesame Street has done a great job at providing resources beyond the screen and the broadcast,” she said, “Young children and their parents are watching differently now, so Sesame is trying to make it so learning happens anywhere, anytime.”  

The Jim Henson exhibit will be on display at the Albuquerque Museum until April 2020. 

Micah Turman is a reporter for New Mexico News Port. He can be contacted on Twitter at @MicahTurman or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.

Nicolas Maxwell-Parra is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be contacted on twitter at @maxwell_parra or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.

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By Michael Marcotte

Hi, I'm the (first-ever) Professor of Practice in Journalism at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. So I'm very involved in helping students learn multimedia journalism. Before New Mexico, I was the 2012-2013 Reynolds Chair in Ethics of Entrepreneurial and Innovative Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno... and, before that, a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. I'm also very active as a consultant, having spent over 25 years as a news director. My website is http://www.mikemarcotte.com or on Twitter: http://twitter.com/michvinmar