By Toby Cooper
Ryan Carpenter glances out the window to where a knot of high-octane 9-year-olds is playing a game with a basketball — although it’s not really basketball at all. In the next room, a UFO is plastered to the wall, not far from a door in the corner suspiciously labeled “Jupiter,” which in turn is close to a heap of bubblegum-colored bookbags and a box marked “Lost and Found.” Welcome to The Funhouse Commons, Eastsound’s enduring center of kid-friendly innovation.
Carpenter, The Funhouse’s freshly minted Executive Director, cannot contain himself any longer.
“It’s my new job,” he says with a ready smile.
Carpenter takes the reins of an iconic Eastsound institution. Founded in 2000 by musician/composer Jim Bredouw and wife Anne, The Funhouse Commons was designed to “inspire, teach and enchant kids.” Originally seen as a children’s science center, it has evolved broadly to feature art, music, and other content.
“Mostly, it’s about play,” says Carpenter. “It is a place where young people can enjoy each others’ company in a safe, stimulating, and constructive environment.”
Growing up on Orcas, Carpenter remembers “old” Eastsound’s shortcomings for local kids.
“There was nothing more than a dingy place for arcade video games,” he says.
Today, The Funhouse is a grateful community’s monument to Bredouw’s remarkable insight.
Noted psychologist and author Dr. Peter Gray writes, “Play is how children learn to take control of their own lives, to make decisions, to negotiate with their peers without some authority figure stepping in to solve problems.”
Carpenter sees these benefits of play as almost axiomatic, adding that with the addition of structure, “play becomes beneficial to the community because it promotes learning and creates a safe space.”
By offering a broad menu of choices, The Funhouse creates an emphasis on exploration. Perhaps reflecting the original emphasis on science, Carpenter sees the value of “throwing it all on the table – to see what sticks,” adding, “when we explore in an atmosphere of playfulness, we discover things about ourselves.
In addition, because The Funhouse works closely with Orcas schools and pre-schools, Carpenter keenly sets his sights on the future of every child who connects with their programs. “It’s not random play,” he says, noting that mission success is a product of vertical harmony throughout the organization’s staff and board structure – backed by judicious strategic planning. “Every one of these kids is becoming someone.”
In recent years, Funhouse programs have evolved further into family and mentoring. They created COY – Coalition for Orcas Youth – as a project to help identify strategies for ultimate family benefit. COY screened a video on Screenagers to focus on how technology is impacting kids. And they find the best mentors are Orcas adults who themselves grew up participating in Funhouse programs. “We occupy an enduring place in the hearts of our alumnae.”
Carpenter advises that The Funhouse Afterschool program provides safe, fun, engaging opportunities for kids after school. The fall session of Afterschool Starts in September with the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.
Each day, Funhouse staff pick children up at the public school and head to The Funhouse for group games, art, free play, and more.
Come to the Funhouse Commons Gala on Sunday, July 30. For tickets, see https://www.funhousecommons.org/