i.d.e.a. History

The i.d.e.a. Museum is built upon the solid and successful 36-year history of the Arizona Museum for Youth, the original, fun, inspiring, and educational hands-on art museum for children and families in the United States. We impact nearly 90,000 visitors annually and have 1,400 member families.

The i.d.e.a. Museum will continue to include the popular art and art-inspired activities, while adding science, engineering and design-thinking in the multi-sensory experiences provided with an increased use of technology to support these offerings and even more opportunities for families to create together. Our purpose is to develop one’s creativity in its many forms, not just art. With your help we will develop one’s ability to think critically -“outside the box”- and problem-solve. We are a place “for your child and the child within you.”

 Our mission is to inspire children of all ages to experience their world differently through art, creativity and imagination. This is accomplished through art exhibitions and STEAM activities focused on supporting early learning, nurturing creative thinking and engaging families.”

John O Whiteman

John O Whiteman


The museum was founded in 1978 by John Whiteman, prompted by his father Jack Whiteman, then President and CEO of Empire Southwest, along with a dedicated group of like-minded individuals from the community with a passion for arts and culture and serving families in the Valley. The museum started as The Center for Fine Arts, Inc. then eventually became the Arizona Museum for Youth until February 2014. It was founded as the only children’s museum in the United States with a focus on fine art. It became a major destination for families in the Metro-Phoenix area, providing the community with interactive world-class art exhibitions inspired to introduce children to the world of art, promote self-discovery and self-expression, and develop their cognitive thinking at a critical time during their development as individuals. Artwork by local, national and international professionals was featured. Exhibitions brought the very best of the world of art to those under 1 and to 101 years of age, and served as a valuable resource for teachers through school tours offered at a discounted admission rate. The museum was run solely by the nonprofit Arizona Museum for Youth Friends, Inc. (Friends) until 1987, when they decided to find a partner for long-term stability. Because Empire Southwest was in Mesa, the ideal partnership was with the City of Mesa. Thus, a new era began with the City of Mesa and Friends (now the i.d.e.a. Museum Foundation Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The i.d.e.a. Museum is owned by the City of Mesa and is supported by the Foundation. COM oversees all museum activities through the Executive Director. The City governs most daily operations-facilities, human resources, policies and fiscal responsibilities for their budget portion. The Foundation oversees fundraising activities, the i.d.e.a. Shop, membership, volunteers and fund PT Gallery Educators, PT Development Coordinator and a PT Museum Technician. The museum was 100% funded by the COM from 1987 to 2005, with special projects and initiatives, such as ArtVille – opening 2004, funded through the Friends. When key museum stakeholders recognized the audience was broadening to include early learners under five they responded to this need. ArtVille opened to eager visitors and has sustained increased attendance, membership and acclaim for providing unique educational experiences to early learners and their caregivers through directed art-play

The museum contains over 20,000 feet of engaging interactive space:

Whiteman Family Exhibition Gallery:

Three fun, educational hands-on art exhibitions of local, national and international artists’ work are presented each year. Our goal in this gallery: to inspire children of all ages to tap into their own imagination and creativity using art to appreciate different viewpoints and cultures. Art is also the spring board through which to explore STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) concepts. The Fall and Spring exhibitions are linked to AZ State Standards of Education and College & Career Ready Standards curriculum in multiple disciplines.

HUB Gallery

Like the central part of a wheel or a computer networking device where several routes meet, HUB is designed for diverse activities leading the explorer to one’s own imagination. It is the intersection of imagination and experience through collaborative making, spontaneous creation, full-body movement, problem-solving and inspiration.


Immerse yourself and your children in our national trend-setting, larger-than-life art town.  Experience key developmental and neurological milestones in children from birth to 4 years. Help shape motor skills, tactile senses, early literacy, vocabulary, self-expression and imagination through:


Features a lounging area with vending machines, tables and activities. Visitors are free to bring in their own food as well.