Courtesy of the Children's Museum.

In the aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting, educators and community groups around the city turned to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. They were looking for some kind of guidance, some curriculum — anything to help their corner of Pittsburgh process the trauma.

“A lot of organizations were reaching out, and we had XOXO ready,” says Anne Fullenkamp, director of design at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

XOXO: A Project about Love & Forgiveness is a mobile museum experience that guides participants of all ages through simple activities based on examining and expressing emotions. Some of the activities are collaborative, involving deep listening and communication with a partner. Others are solitary, like an area where attendees can write down their fears on colorful paper which they then shred and turn into art.

XOXO exhibit on Penn Avenue. Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
XOXO exhibit on Penn Avenue. Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

“We always look back to Fred Rogers,” says Fullenkamp. “If you talk about something, it makes it less scary. It might help the problem and alleviate some of these issues.”

Designed in 2014 as a traveling exhibit, the original 2000-square-foot XOXO installation toured dozens of cities across the country before finding a permanent home at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville in 2016.

With that underlying structure already in place, Fullenkamp and her team of education experts set about adapting the activities and interventions from the original exhibit into a version that was mobile and easier to share with partners in the region.

There is now an XOXO exhibit at the Children’s Museum, a smaller version at Children’s Hospital, a pop-up exhibit at a storefront space at 819 Penn Avenue in the Cultural District (open weekends through Dec. 31) and a mobile version.

Since early November, the museum’s staff have been hosting these mobile XOXO events at places like the Oakmont Library, South Park Library, Assemble in Garfield and many other locations. Interested in hosting your own XOXO event? The museum can provide pop-up versions of the exhibit for venues and private events upon request until the end of the year.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Fullenkamp explained that in addition to helping children and families process the trauma of the last several weeks, their work around the city has been a chance to further refine the exhibit.

XOXO exhibit on Penn Avenue. Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
XOXO exhibit on Penn Avenue. Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Fullenkamp says her team is “working out the kinks and seeing what needs to be tweaked,” with an eye toward rolling out a curriculum and a kit of simple graphic tools that will allow community partners to train themselves and conduct XOXO activities independent of the museum.

She says kits will be available at the Children’s Museum in the Northside and posted online in January or February of 2019.

Beyond the XOXO activities themselves, Fullenkamp hopes the spare, DIY nature of the project will inspire other partners in the community.

“We wanted to have a system that shows people you don’t need a lot of money to make an impact in your community.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.