Recent donations have catapulted Great River Children’s Museum more than halfway to its fundraising goal

New construction is within sight

Design rendering of the Headwaters exhibit sponsored by Cross Works Foundation

Recent donations have brought Great River Children’s Museum’s capital campaign efforts to more than $8.2 million, more than halfway to the campaign goal.

“We are beyond thrilled to reach this milestone,” said Cassie Miles, executive director of Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM). “Our next milestone is $10.5 million – which we hope to reach before year’s end – so we can begin construction.”

Recent donations include $2.5 million from Cross Works Foundation, $500,000 from an anonymous donor, $500,000 from Joyce and Tom Schlough, $250,000 from Dr. John and Joyce Matsuura, and $250,000 from Minnwest Bank.

GRCM currently is in the fundraising phase of museum development with a current campaign goal of $13.5 million. To date, more than 250 organizations and individuals have donated or pledged their financial support to bring the second largest children’s museum in Minnesota to our region. Coborn’s Family Foundation as well as Barbara and Rollie Anderson sponsored the museum’s first two core exhibits, Climber to the Clouds and Great Big River, each for $1 million.

At the same time, GRCM is working with three exhibit companies to finalize designs and begin fabricating core museum exhibits. Interior demolition of the museum’s 25,000-square-foot facility in downtown St. Cloud began in December 2021. More than 21 tons of demolition debris was recycled or salvaged as the museum gears up for the construction phase.

“Our volunteer team has been working tirelessly the past two years to bring necessary funds in the door,” Miles said. “The passion and enthusiasm for this project becomes more and more pronounced as we close in on the reality of starting construction. We are always looking for more volunteers to help us raise the additional funds.”

About Great River Children’s Museum

Learning together as we go

By Jane Ellison, GRCM board member and volunteer

Great River Children’s Museum offered a Play, Explore and Learn (PEL) Lab for Somali families on October 8 at our downtown building. This was a rich co-learning experience, where families learned about the children’s museum and children’s learning through play. GRCM volunteers listened to suggestions for the future museum and were able to field test a welcoming display of cultural fabrics, carvings, metalwork, and local artwork.

The PEL Lab offered activities one might find in the future exhibits, and efforts were made to integrate Somali materials, such as hijabs for the baby dolls and children’s books in English and Somali.

The program included time for parents and children to play together, storytelling, snack and play for children while parents learned about museum plans and gave input on ways to incorporate Somali culture into the Community Connections exhibit. The PEL Lab closed with a multi-cultural music performance by the Lullaby Singers for parents and children together. The singing experience was SO enjoyable – some children brought the baby dolls to hold on their laps while listening to the music and a few of the parents joined the performers in a fun sing-a-long.  Everyone left with smiles.  No wonder music is a universal language.

GRCM volunteers were impressed with the kindness and cooperation among the fifteen children from 8 mos. – 13 years. Older children included and helped younger children, independently creating an amazing bus big enough for all – with a door that opened and closed, and an awesome steering wheel.

We are continuing to learn from the wider community that has much to offer the museum with its talents, ideas, creativity, support and encouragement. Many thanks to the Cultural Navigators Anisa and Naima, video production team Mohamed (XIDIG TV) and Bashir (C.A.I.R.O.), volunteers, and the Lullaby Singers!

Improving Mental Health Through Play

Reviewed by Vincent Miles, PsyD LP; Jane Ellison, LMFT; Jill Amsberry, DO; Bruce Broman, MD; and Barbara Skodje-Mack, EdD, LMFT

The modern children’s museum is a place of wonder, a place of awe, a place of fun, and a place of playful learning. As a location separate from home and from school, this “third-space” creates an environment that is rich with the many childhood needs of healthy growth and development as well as a space for family and community to come together. One benefit of this unique environment is how it strengthens mental health and physical wellness by providing a space that is active, engaging, joyful, socially interactive, iterative and meaningful.1

While the primary effects are on the children who enter the doors, the secondary effects of these benefits can be traced to the family and back into the Central Minnesota community as a whole. The wellbeing of our next generation will undoubtedly reverberate in all of our lives.

In recent years childhood stressors have been increasing2 and with the effect of the pandemic a tremendous burden has been placed on children, families, and our healthcare systems. This is, in part, evidenced by the extended wait times and high numbers of children on waitlists for mental health services throughout our 12 county region. The importance of play is growing and community demand for healthy spaces for childhood development is at an all-time high.

The physical and mental health benefits of play are well documented.3 4 5 In addition to encouraging healthy physical development, Great River Children’s Museum will reinforce the long-term socio-emotional benefits provided by play-rich environments by: supporting healthy relationships, strengthening core life skills, reducing sources of toxic stress, fostering creativity, and developing mental flexibility, understanding, and acceptance.

1 Hirsh-Pasek, K., et al. (2020). A new path to education reform: playful learning promotes 21st century skills in school and beyond. Brookings Institute, Policy Brief. 2 Twenge, J. M., et al. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(3), 185-199. 3 Yogman, M., et al. (2018) The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics, 142(3). 4 White, R. E. (2012). The power of play: A research summary on play and learning. Minnesota Children’s Museum. 5 MuseumNext (2022). The role of museums in supporting the wellbeing of children and families. Retrieved August 2022 from www.museumnext.com

Exploring Local Treasures through Geocaching

By Jayne Balicky, GRCM exhibits committee member and Early Childhood Special Education teacher District 742

As a member of the Great River Children’s Museum exhibits committee, I am especially excited to know our exhibits were designed to celebrate all that is great about Central Minnesota. You see, I love living here and raising my children here. I’m also always looking for ways to share with my kids the beauty of St. Cloud and its surrounding areas. 

This summer, my family learned about a new way to explore our local treasures—through geocaching. Geocaching is a bit like treasure hunting, where people use GPS coordinates to search for hidden objects. Geocaching is actually not new… it’s been around over 20 years. More recently, it became popular during the pandemic as a family-friendly way to enjoy the outdoors. 

It was remarkably easy to begin our new hobby. We downloaded the free Geocaching app. After creating an account, we gained access to hundreds of local treasures, called “caches”. Using clues and the GPS included in the Geocaching app, we’ve now found over 40 local caches! Each cache looks a little different, but all are a container of some kind. Inside each cache is a log sheet, so you can make a record of your find. There are often small trinkets or toys, too, and feel free to take one if you have something to leave behind in its place. 

My seven-year-old is hooked on geocaching, and is especially good at tracking down our treasures, but my four-year-old also has fun and has found several caches on her own, too. Along the way we’ve checked out beautiful local communities, trails, and parks. If you’re in search of some family fun this fall, give geocaching a try! You’ll be amazed at the treasures that await right where we live.

Organic ways to grow and connect

This summer we’ve been able to connect with children, families, and community members in our region outside of St. Cloud. Families and caregivers are excited to learn that a children’s museum is coming to Central Minnesota! Through our partnership with Great River Regional Library, and through visits to various farmers markets, we’ve been able to provide simple and interactive programming for kids and their caring adults to enjoy and learn through play. 

Farmers markets are a great way to meet neighbors in your community. Supporting your local farmers market is an important piece of community involvement too. Not only are you getting fresh and nourishing food that you need, but you’re also connecting with local growers!

The farmers market is a great place to learn where your food comes from and how it’s grown by simply chatting with the farmers and growers. You can ask them where the food gets planted, how long it takes to grow, when it was picked, and more. Sometimes, they might even have recipes and cooking ideas to share. After all, they’re the ones who are there from seed to sprout!

Taking a walk through the farmers market is a great way to learn more about your community and those around you. It can be a great place to try new foods, learn about local arts and trades, and meet new people. For some kids, farmers markets can be a more comfortable environment to experiment with food, ask questions, and in our case spend some time playing while learning about Great River Children’s Museum.

We’re designing an exhibit space that will celebrate the diversity of Central Minnesota’s communities through art, food, and music. The goal is to demonstrate that even though we’re all different and come from different backgrounds or cultures, we are all connected. Community Connections will include a Global Market to explore food, spices, and more from different cultures and parts of the world. You and the kids you love will be able to explore various scents by smelling spices, textures by touching food, and colors and sizes by assembling flower bouquets and sorting produce.

We want to thank all of the local farmers markets that have allowed us to be there with a fun and engaging experience for children and their caring adults. We’ve met and connected with so many amazing people!

Not your everyday PLAY: Our adventures at ACM and AAM

Last week, museum staff ventured out to attend the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conferences as a way to connect with other museums and gain more insight about the ever-changing industry.

Program and Outreach Manager, Kylie headed off to St. Louis, Missouri for InterActivity 2022 ACM annual conference. This year’s theme, PLAY The Long Game, explored how to adjust to today’s dynamics, while also preparing for the future of serving the many generations of children and families ahead. It was held at the St. Louis Children’s Museum, also known as “The Magic House.” The conference included an emerging museums track, which was especially beneficial to us in our pre-construction state.

Kylie teamed up with Exhibit Designer, Betsy Loring, of expLoring exhibits & engagement and Game and Experience Designer, Greg Trefry, of Gigantic Mechanic to host a session on Role Play Games (RPG) in museum settings and how it can help to spark children’s creativity and encourage collaboration. Kylie shared ideas around how RPGs can expand programming for older children (and even adults!) in a children’s museum setting. Since there are many other benefits to RPGs like imaginative learning and communication skills, they can be adjusted to use for a variety of audiences. 

Executive Director, Cassie and Social Media Coordinator, Jessica attended the AAM annual MuseumExpo conference held in Boston this year. The focus was on organizational culture, innovation, museums in society, and financial wellness. Much like ACM, this convention is filled with museum professionals who have created solutions for some of the most challenging behind the scenes and public facing issues we face everyday on a much broader scale. 

Our very first session was held at the Boston Children’s Museum where we were tasked with designing a prototype exhibit themed around music and culture. The goal was to encourage connection and self-expression while keeping inclusion and accessibility at the forefront. This session was followed by some ‘research’ (aka playing) at the children’s museum and was a great way to start off the weekend! 

We were thrilled to attend an in-person (finally!) conference this year to hear stories and experiences from other museums. Here’s to a great year ahead and looking forward to attending, and maybe even presenting, again next year!

A Great (River!) Partnership

Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library share a common goal to spark curiosity and learning while encouraging the exploration of new ideas.

Over the next year, Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library are proud to be bringing the communities of Central Minnesota a small glimpse of the future of Great River Children’s Museum (“GRCM”) through Pop-up Exhibit Experiences hosted by libraries around the region! This is the perfect opportunity to share the potential of future museum exhibits, programming, and experiences with those we look forward to serving in our region.

The library’s goal to have a patron-centered organization is an excellent fit with the museum’s plan to bring play and exploration to Central Minnesota’s children and families. 

“The library has specific goals to try new ideas, innovate, and create partnerships that promote libraries and their services, so this feels like a natural extension of key parts of our goals,” says GRRL’s Beth Stolpman.

Great River Children’s Museum aspires to be a place where there is something for everyone and all are welcome, much like Great River Regional Library. Our goal is to bring awareness to those in our region who may not know we are in development. Library patrons outside of the St. Cloud metro area will get a sneak peek of what the future holds for Great River Children’s Museum through displays and exhibit related programming in the familiarity of their local library.

GRRL Librarian Jade Lauber, said, “We are so excited to have the opportunity to have the pop-up exhibits from Great River Children’s Museum! These exhibits will give our patrons the chance to experience what the museum has to offer, and will be an excellent addition to our summer programming. This year, we have a lot of outdoor, nature, and camping activities tying into our annual Summer Reading Program, ‘Read Beyond the Beaten Path.’ We can’t wait to see how well the museum’s Pop-up Exhibit Experiences compliment our existing library resources and programs, and how our patrons will interact with the exhibits!”

Cohort 1 of the Pop-up Exhibit Experiences begin Sunday, May 1 2022 at these Great River Regional Library locations: Annandale, Becker, Clearwater, Paynesville, Pierz, Richmond, and Swanville.

GRCM will also be taking part in this years Llama Llama Pajama Party at the St. Cloud Great River Regional Library on May 10th from 5-7pm. Come by to chat with us and enjoy an activity as well as a coloring contest, storytime, prizes, and more provided by United Way of Central Minnesota, GRRL, and others.

We look forward to connecting with the patrons of Great River Regional Library and to all future partnership opportunities that will support children, their families, and their love of learning through play!

Making room for the museum

The downtown St. Cloud building that is the future home of the Great River Children’s Museum has undergone dramatic changes over the past 4 months. Salvagers and volunteers  have carefully removed thousands of pounds of materials for reuse and recycling in preparation for a demolition team to begin the transformation of the building in order to construct the museum.

The deconstruction process was coordinated by David Mohs, the lead facilities volunteer. He describes the process he created that led to 25 tons of materials and fixtures being removed from the building for reuse or recycling.

First, an online database of building fixtures including photographs was created. This inventory was then shared with GRCM representatives, who claimed items for GRCM’s preservation and for personal use. Technicians and volunteers who toured or had worked in the buildings were also invited to claim items. Nonprofit organizations and government agencies were invited to review the inventory through an announcement via the Saint Cloud Area Human Services Council. Select items were marketed on Freecycle and the Minnesota Materials Exchange. Eventually, people who participated in the salvage project were encouraged to invite others. Word of mouth was the most successful method of finding salvagers.

All materials were available for free, with a few exceptions. For example,  salvagers could not take copper and other valuable metals unless they paid more than the recycling value. Salvagers provided their own labor and tools to reclaim the desired materials. Each was required to sign a liability waiver covering injury, damage, and regulatory responsibility. The serious salvagers typically fell into one or more of these categories: (a) persons employed in facilities management, (b) nonprofits/governments with a dedicated facilities staff, or (c) people with farming backgrounds.

Over 50 individuals and groups participated in this process. Some examples of salvaged materials and salvagers who participated included.  A school that claimed 800 pounds of shelving and building materials for theatrical sets. A government entity claimed 1400 pounds of cabinets and counters used by their guests. A non-profit that serves persons with disabilities claimed over 1,700 pounds of materials to be used for various improvements. A farm family claimed 3,000 pounds of lumber and ceiling tiles to remodel a barn.

In addition to the materials that were salvaged for reuse, there were also materials that were dismantled and collected for recycling by 10-15 GRCM volunteers.  These materials were taken to the local recycling business and brought in $4-5,000 to the organization.

There were a variety of materials that were salvaged or recycled including: wood products, glass, metal, stone and other.  The graph below shows categories of materials by weight.

This deconstruction process had multiple benefits for GRCM, the community and our collective environment.  The museum benefited by reducing the costs of demolition through saving time and effort on the part of the demolition crew who could do their work more efficiently and with less having to be taken away.  In addition, recycling metals that provided some additional income. The benefits to the community were that individuals, non-profits, schools and churches were able to find fixtures and materials that they could use by reclaiming them with their labor.  There were over 25 tons of materials removed from the building that did not end up in a landfill that benefits us all.

A big thanks to 50+ salvagers and volunteers who participated in the deconstruction process that has supported GRCM to move to focusing on the construction of a children’s museum.  A special thanks to David Mohs who led this deconstruction project from building a database of materials to contacting salvagers and spending countless hours preparing the building, coordinating volunteers, and assisting salvagers.

Connecting with Children’s Museums in Greater Minnesota

During 2021, we focused on building relationships and partnerships that will strengthen our ability to serve Central Minnesota families when our doors open. Establishing collaborative relationships with children’s museums across the state was a top priority and an effective way to spread our mission beyond our region.

Thus, the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition was formed. We are joined by 7 other children’s museums across Minnesota to make a difference in the lives of children and their caring adults throughout the entire state. 

From left: Peter Olson (WonderTrek Children’s Museum), Greg Reigstad (Great River Children’s Museum), Janie Heitz (Children’s Discovery Museum), and Katie Ganoe (Otter Cove Children’s Museum)

Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition members will serve nearly 500,000 guests annually, capturing visitors from nearly 100% of the state’s 87 counties. The coalition includes Otter Cove Children’s Museum, the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, Duluth Children’s Museum, Spark Children’s Museum, and more. We aim to focus on the areas surrounding the Twin Cities that may not receive as much support.

Our goal is to raise the voice of children’s museums to:

  • Reveal the impact children’s museums have on early childhood development
  • Strengthen bonds between children, their caring adults, and our shared communities
  • Increase cross-cultural competency through early exposure to diverse ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds
  • Drive economic development and improve quality of life of families in the regions we serve
  • Bridge the gap in funding for children’s museums in greater Minnesota
  • Drive tourism to Greater Minnesota

Collectively, the coalition has submitted a bill requesting $36M in state funds towards capital projects underway at children’s museums throughout greater Minnesota. Many of the museums will use this funding for building and exhibit design, renovations and construction in order to create and expand our abilities to spark joy and enhance learning through play! A substantial economic return of 5x the investment will be experienced through direct, indirect, and induced spending and job creation.

For more information, please visit the respective organization’s website. Click here to find them!

Painting a partnership with herARTS in Action

By Sarah Drake, CEO & Teaching Artist of herARTS in Action

When I (herARTS in Action) was presented with the opportunity to create artwork for Great River Children’s Museum, I knew I needed to invite the children I work with at my artist residencies to help. The space is transforming for the kids, and their families, to use while learning and having fun, so they needed a voice. 

In the summer of 2021, I was able to tie this to my work with the United Way of Central Minnesota and 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC). I also happened to have some students in paid mentorship with me as well. They got hands-on experience in not only the creative but also the business side of how projects work.

Sarah Drake adds finishing touches to the window murals

Students aged 1-20 and with heritage indigenous to this land, Africa, Asia, central and north Americas, and Europe, and with various religious backgrounds and abilities worked on the project. The common theme that emerged from them all: The Mississippi River and activities to do in, on, and around it. 

Hanging in the windows, you can see the river as it starts in the spring at the headwaters, meanders down through St. Cloud in the summer and fall, and ends up in the Twin Cities in the winter. The seven clans of the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe are represented in the animals. 

You may have read this far and recently drove by GRCM and are thinking to yourself, I didn’t see any artwork in the museum’s north windows on 7th Avenue. You’re right! To keep them safe, they were temporarily taken down during demolition. They will be back up soon though. AND with some new additions!

Thanks to my classes through United Way, we have another group of students working on artwork for the windows in the south building. As spring flowers start to peek through the snow, the artwork will be popping up in the GRCM windows again!

Thank you to all of the funders who made this possible, the organization sites, but even more so to the kids who shared their brilliant ideas and talents!

The project for Great River Children’s Museum was possible because of funding from the Morgan Family Foundation and United Way 21CCLC. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Visit www.herartsinaction.org for more information about the organization and for a copy of Sarah’s first published book “Nanou’s Promise: A Journey Beyond Hauling Water.” She wrote and created the collage art for the book, which is inspired by her volunteerism in Burkina Faso for access to clean water, sanitation, and education.