Featured photo: The rooftop of Kaleideum. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

At Kaleideum, the children’s museum in downtown Winston-Salem, peals of laughter echo through rooms filled with games and toys. The sound of footsteps tumble down the hallways, followed by squeals of elation and surprise.

But it’s a Saturday night, and the kids are in bed.

On the second Saturday of the month, the space opens up to adults for a night at the museum called “Kaleideum After Dark.”

The view of downtown Winston-Salem from Kaleideum’s rooftop. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

The culmination of the merger between SciWorks and the Children’s Museum, Kaleideum is an eight-year project that found its home in the old Forsyth County Sheriff’s Building, opening its doors in mid-February. Today, the building gleams with whimsy inside and out, from the pink, orange, green and blue painted triangles on the building’s exterior that reflect its namesake, a kaleidoscope, to the nine interactive exhibits filled with science experiments, games, art stations, puppets and toys. 

Kaleideum is home to high-flying and ground-slithering creatures alike. Huey, a blue and gold macaw preened his feathers while visitors stared at Elvis and Lloyd, the museum’s pair of boa constrictors with a taste for frozen mice.

Kaleideum’s boa constrictors Elvis and Lloyd love to lounge and eat frozen mice. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

With $30.5 million in funding from Forsyth County, $3.8 million from the state and millions more gathered through a fundraising campaign, the four-story 70,000-square-foot building is slated to bring in 300,000 visitors annually and has an anticipated economic impact of more than $10 million.

And, boy, was it popular on June 8. The event line that formed on the Third Street sidewalk ran all the way back to Liberty Street, filled with adults of all ages.

For many adults in Winston-Salem, it can be hard to meet people and make friends, especially as third spaces dwindle. Life can get lonely. 

At the In Motion exhibit, visitors cast balls aloft with wind. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Winston-Salem is an educational mecca where students form bonds at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University and UNC School of the Arts. Then the kids throw their caps in the air and leave the city’s nest for their next adventure — whether it’s a job or graduate school — in another city. For some, Winston-Salem is just a stepping stone, and for others it’s the place they moved to for one of the hundreds of new jobs surging into the city. 

But a 2021 study showed that young adult generations are growing lonelier with each passing generation, and it’s no secret that there’s an epidemic of isolation and loneliness across the nation. In 2023, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory shedding light on the issue. When COVID-19 swept the planet and working from home became indispensable, many companies opted to make that change permanent even when face-to-face interaction resumed. Many adults who spend their workdays cooped up for hours are left yearning for social interaction at the end of the day.

The lack of social interaction can have harmful effects on people’s mental and physical health. A 2015 study revealed that social isolation increases risk of premature death by 29 percent. “In the last few decades, we’ve just lived through a dramatic pace of change,” Murthy told NPR’s All Things Considered in 2023. “We move more, we change jobs more often, we are living with technology that has profoundly changed how we interact with each other and how we talk to each other. And you can feel lonely even if you have a lot of people around you, because loneliness is about the quality of your connections.”

A DJ played music in the Digital Dome exhibit, where images of constellations shone above. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

At Kaleideum, partygoers ran into old friends and strengthened their connections with acquaintances. Couples laughed and bonded with other pairs from across tables or chatted with people while they waited in line to get drinks. One partygoer, who grew up in Winston-Salem, came to the event with his partner, telling TCB that after returning to that childhood whimsy in the exhibits, his knees hurt less and he felt lighter.

And this time, there weren’t teachers or parents dragging captivated kids away from the exhibits. Attendees could go to any exhibit and stay as long as they pleased — this field trip lasted until 9:30 p.m.

“My inner child is unlocked.”

That’s what one visitor wrote on the slate wall in the Wonders of Water exhibit, where splashes brought back memories of being small and awestruck by swirling water.

A visitor wrote “My inner child is unlocked” on the slate wall in the Wonders of Water exhibit. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

Partygoers squealed with surprise as the toys they threw into whirlpools danced in the maelstrom.

Up on the roof, partygoers seemed to forget they were wearing heels and dress shoes, tip-toeing and teetering across balance beams, spinning in cocoon swings and whooshing down slides as if they were kids again. A band played while people swayed to the music and gazed at the city’s skyline.

Kaleideum after dark.(Photo by Gale Melcher)

While downtown Winston-Salem is growing at a rapid pace — so much so that the city is implementing a fourth police district this summer — it isn’t typically a raucous romp; many pockets of downtown quiet down well before midnight. 

But on June 8, those who stepped out of Kaleideum left with new connections and a reignited spark for life, chatting and strolling the streets toward restaurants and nightlife.

So get out there. Enjoy the places and the people while you’re here. The memories are waiting for you to make them.

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