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.

From poultry to play, family connection continues within our walls

Don Helgeson and Sue Shepard have announced a leadership gift to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the Temporary Gallery. A space for traveling exhibits, expanded programming, and innumerable projects and works of art from around Central Minnesota to be shared! 

The Gallery is an important feature of the future children’s museum. It is especially important to Don and Sue because, like the building that Great River Children’s Museum resides in, it will always be changing and evolving into something different. Our building in downtown St. Cloud has been everything from a chicken hatchery to an athletic center. The one constant has been the Helgeson family’s connection to this space. 

The building began as Jack Frost Hatchery and Liberty Loan and Thrift founded in 1934 by Don’s father, Elmer “Mike” Helgeson. Mike wanted to help the farmers in the area by creating finance solutions. This would allow farmers to purchase chicks on installment payment plans. At the time it was a revolutionary way of doing business and proved to be very successful. By 1939, Liberty Loan and Thrift expanded to begin financing cars and farm machinery.

Circa 1941

Before his graduation in 1950 from what was then known as St. Cloud State Teachers College, Don decided that he would like to take over his father’s hatchery. He switched his focus and completed courses relating to farming and animals, specifically poultry. 

Don became a manager at the hatchery and was given opportunities to make important decisions. It was upon his suggestion that his father bought a farm near Mille Lacs Lake to start breeding chickens, feeding their own supply line. By the 1970’s, Don and his brother Jerry were partners and co-owners of the hatchery and loan business and their hard work saw the business evolve and the facility become a space used for a multitude of purposes.

In 1993 Don’s son, Michael (“Mike”) Helgeson, became CEO of the family business. In 2018 Liberty Bank moved to a new location and donated their downtown headquarters to the Great River Children’s Museum project for the benefit of the entire Central Minnesota community. Mike and his wife Karel Helgeson have served, and do serve, on the Board and Committees of Great River Children’s Museum and so it goes that the building remains a part of the wonderful Helgeson family legacy. 

“The Liberty building represents our family’s legacy and passions intersecting: the chicken business, banking business, appreciation and support for the arts, and giving back to the community.” -Don Helgeson in his book Gratitude.

We are incredibly grateful and excited that Don and Sue have chosen to play such an instrumental role in the transformation of our beautiful 111 7th Ave S. structure!

GRCM Executive Director featured on Minnesota Live!

In October, our Executive Director, Cassie Miles, was able to share Central Minnesota’s vision for the creation of the 2nd largest children’s museum in the state with the Twin Cities market on Minnesota Live with KSTP-TV. This has been our biggest audience yet!

As Great River Children’s Museum continues to design a space that will bring play filled learning opportunities to children and their families for generations to come, we’re seeking corporate and family gifts to help us reach the first $8 million in our $12 million capital campaign. We can’t wait to start knocking down walls and swinging sledgehammers!

Will your employer be the next Great River Children’s Museum supporter? Help Help us Open Doors and Open Worlds of exploration and delight for families in our region by spreading the word and talking to your employer today!

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

And we’re rolling, rolling with the river

Kiddos will set a course for adventure as they head downstream on the Great River. This exhibit celebrates and teaches about the importance of water as habitat, a means of transportation for commerce as well as a sacred resource and lifeline for our communities.

On Oct. 9, 2021, Great River Children’s Museum board members and committee volunteers were wowed with the second round of design schematics for the museum’s core exhibits. At the Great River, museum visitors will hear and read stories about relationships with the river throughout history.

A massive water table flows with ample space for boat races, movement of goods, building locks, dams and more.
Humans aren’t the only ones who live along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, and families can get “deep into the weeds” to learn more about critical habitats and the critters who call the river home. With rapids, beaver dams and a water wheel, rest assured, kiddos will get wet! And there’s so much fun in that!

Great River Children’s Museum would like to thank Barbara and Rollie Anderson for sponsoring this exhibit.

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To learn more about sponsorship or corporate partnerships, please contact Executive Director
Cassie Miles at Cassie.Miles@greatrivercm.org

Forecast: Cloudy with a chance of awesome

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Kids will soon have their head in the clouds (hands, feet and whole self, too!).

Higher and higher, kiddos will climb above cityscapes and rivers in Climber to the Clouds, an exhibit sponsored by Coborn Family Foundation.

On Oct. 9, 2021, Great River Children’s Museum board members and committee volunteers were wowed with the second round of design schematics for the museum’s core exhibits. 

Climber to the Clouds will be the heart of the museum, awing museum visitors as they enter the spectacular atrium. 

Once museum visitors pass through the ticketing area, the museum space opens up to reveal the towering, immersive exhibit.

Scattered throughout Climber are physical play features to scurry over, under and around. Cranks and buttons invite explorers to interact to learn about weather systems and even create their own rain, thunder, wind, and rainbows. 

Passersby also will be captivated by the illuminated, three-story, cloud-filled sky visible from outside.

Great River Children’s Museum would like to thank Coborn Family Foundation for sponsoring this exhibit.

To learn more about sponsorship or corporate partnerships, please contact Executive Director Cassie Miles at Cassie.Miles@greatrivercm.org

$1 million Anderson gift drives Great River Children’s Museum closer to Opening Doors and Opening Worlds

Sponsorship of river exhibit keeps museum plans flowing

St. CLOUD – Barbara and Rollie Anderson have announced a personal $1 million dollar pledge to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the “Great River” exhibit. 

“We’ve always said family is the most important thing,” Rollie explained. “Great River Children’s Museum will be a welcome addition to Central Minnesota as a space for families to explore, discover and learn together, and we’re proud to be a part of its development.”

The Andersons have a deep history of strengthening families in our region through their work with Early Childhood Family Education, service, community engagement, and history of generosity with Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, CentraCare, and Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, to name a few.

Sponsorship of the “Great River” exhibit is particularly meaningful. Museum goers will learn about the importance of water as habitat, a means of transportation for commerce as well as a lifeline for communities. For Barbara and Rollie, their family-owned company, Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), played a key role helping the millions of Puerto Rico residents who were devastated following Hurricane Maria in 2017. ATS has been doing business in Puerto Rico since 1995 and helped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with generators and pumps to save a dam from breaking, the U.S. Coast Guard with providing potable water to residents, and relief agencies with delivery of other cargo, including shower trailers, laundry trailers, traffic lights, generators, fuel, 28,000 telephone and utility poles, 60,000 miles of cable, transformers, bucket trucks, portable cellular towers, and the list goes on.

“We’re honored to deepen the sense of community in our region by sharing our wonderful heritage and history of life along the river with families,” Barbara said. “Great River Children’s Museum will deliver on the importance of children having an opportunity for hands-on learning experiences.” 

GRCM currently is in the fund-raising phase of museum development. At the same time, the organization is working with three professional exhibit design firms to finalize core museum exhibits. 

The Andersons join the Coborn Family Foundation as the museum’s first two exhibit sponsors.

“We are at an exhilarating point in our fund raising and development,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “Each gift brings us one step closer to opening our doors.”

About Great River Children’s Museum

Great River Children’s Museum is an emerging museum that will reside in downtown St. Cloud, thanks to Liberty Bank’s $1.4 million donation of its building. 

GRCM’s mission is to shine a bright light on the power of play to spark children’s learning, strengthen families, and build community connections. The museum currently is in a capital campaign to develop a place where every child and their caring adults can create, explore, discover and be inspired. The museum’s Board of Directors is working with experienced museum planners, exhibit designers, and architects to transform its 25,000 square foot space into one that celebrates the rich, natural elements, resources and cultures of Central Minnesota. 

GRCM is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization and member of the Association of Children’s Museums