An Educational Tropical Island Right in the Heart of Downtown Long Beach

It’s always nice when a new place opens in town, but it’s especially nice when that new place is a spot devoted to the arts AND kid-friendly to boot.

PIEAM’s Intriguing Exterior

Founded by the late Dr. Robert Gumbiner in 2009, the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (PIEAM; www.pieam.org ) is located in the East Village Arts District of Downtown Long Beach. No, I am not talking about MOLAA (Museum of Latin American Arts) – that’s directly across the street though (and you can park there for free for PIEAM, too). PIEAM is a one-room museum dedicated to ethnic and living arts from all regions of Oceania: Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia. Various sources report that it is the first museum in the world dedicated exclusively to this region. Here’s a map to show the area we’re focusing on here:

Oceania: PIEAM’s Focus

Last week a mama friend of mine told me she was heading over here with her kids (ages 2 and 5) as she’d heard (and saw from the exterior) that it was not that large – an hour at most with kids in tow. As it’s about five minutes from our house, I figured why not make time to swing by and check it out; I mean, I’d only driven by the building dozens of times since it opened fall 2010. And I’ll be honest – I didn’t even really know what the new palm tree-painted building was all about.

Community House at PIEAM (sorry for the blur, taking pics while following kids is never easy 🙂 )

When T and I arrived, my friends were already there getting a brief tour from one of the staff. The guide was giving some information about the large community house exhibit that sits center stage in the room. She explained that the designs of the roof thatching and other detailing in the house’s architecture and decor tells others in the area who built the house, which families own it, and what types of gatherings happen inside the building. Many of the materials used for the roofing also came from the islands, only adding more authenticity to the replica. But maybe the truest sense of community in this house lies in the fact that persons within the local Pacific Islander community of Long Beach volunteered their time to come together to build this for the museum space.

PIEAM’s Wall of Masks

In addition to the main indoor exhibit space, the kids found a small theater off to the side playing a video of the different cultural customs and traditions of various tribes in the region. Featured were ceremonies, clothing, masks, dishes, and other artifacts from the region. I think the kids just liked the fact there was a TV room, and that’s OK; they can grow into settling in and learning more as they get older.

View as you enter PIEAM’s outdoor Sculpture Garden

Once we got through the inside space, we ventured outdoors to spend some time in the sculpture garden. All I can say is that for about the next hour, despite our proximity to two heavily trafficked streets and being right in the heart of a busy urban center, it was quite easy to forget where we were other than lounging in a nice slice of garden paradise. The kids got to explore the garden paths and look at fish in the pond, and we moms got to sit on the grass in the shade of palm trees and other tropical floral bushes, listen to the gentle water falling on the rocks of the fish pond, and chat.

What a drive-by can’t show you: The shady beauty of PIEAM’s Sculpture Garden

Needless to say, it was a relaxing – and educational – morning adventure, and I look forward to returning to PIEAM again very soon. Aloha (yes, Hawaii is traditionally part of Oceania, see the map)!

PIEAM’s Sculpture Garden features a large Dilukai Gable Figure

PIEAM is located at 695 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, CA, which is on the “triangle” between Alamitos Ave., Martin King Jr. Ave., and E. 7th St. PIEAM parking is free at MOLAA’s parking lot, 628 Alamitos Ave. For admission and other info, please go to http://www.pieam.org.

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