Great River Children’s Museum Blog

Kylie Conover

Kylie Conover
Kylie Conover

Great River Children’s Museum is excited to welcome its newest hire, Kylie Conover! 

Kylie will be instrumental in helping us fulfill our mission of Opening Worlds as the Program and Outreach Manager. 

This is a key position as Great River Children’s Museum continues to raise funds for our 25,000-square-foot renovation and to engage with the community and get everyone excited about a children’s museum in Central Minnesota. 

We were able to hire Kylie thanks to Legacy Funds from the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

For the last few weeks, Kylie has been getting acquainted with Board members and volunteers of Great River Children’s Museum and has been having meetings with organizations that serve the families of the greater St. Cloud area. She believes that museums are for everyone and works hard to ensure that the programming she develops is accessible to as many folks as possible. 

In normal circumstances, Kylie would be knee deep in crafting materials and excitedly sharing information about what a comet is made up of or looking at the details of the inside of a flower, but the COVID pandemic is forcing all of us to approach things a little differently. 

She is looking forward to when the museum will be able to do more in-person activities and programming. 

“I am so pleased to be joining Great River Children’s Museum at the very beginning,” Kylie said. “It allows me to ensure that the programs that I am creating for the museum are not only fun and educational but also relevant to the people of St. Cloud and all of Central Minnesota.” 

Kylie hails from Reno, Nevada but she is no stranger to the Midwest. 

She attended the University of South Dakota where she obtained her Master’s Degree in history with a certificate in museum and archival studies. She is an AmeriCorps VISTA alumni where she was a volunteer outreach coordinator for a small nonprofit in Reno. 

Kylie brings with her extensive knowledge of the inner workings of a museum. She worked a year and a half at a hands-on science center as a museum educator, creating programming and demonstrations that appealed to all of the visitors.  

The move to Minnesota is a return home for her husband who is from Minneapolis. When Kylie is not working she is an avid runner and explorer of the outdoors with her border collie, Aspen.

Monkey business underway at GRCM

David Mohs
David Mohs

By: David Mohs
GRCM Facilities Committee co-chair
Exhibits Committee member

On a daily basis for over two years, I have and continue to provide behind-the-scenes volunteer support to the emerging Great River Children’s Museum. My information technology background within a secondary education environment was a natural fit for the museum’s interim networking, computing, audio-visual, and security needs.

Though the pandemic has hampered in-person activities, persistent planning for the museum’s launch continues. Given that Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” imagine how many hours of preparation are required to convert a 25,000-square-foot, 100-room banking facility into a bustling children’s museum. Upon opening its doors, Great River Children’s Museum will open worlds of exploration, discovery and creativity in Downtown Saint Cloud.

In the meantime, while we at Great River Children’s Museum figuratively sharpen our axe, Minnesota Children’s Museum in Saint Paul has collaborated with us to bring a second small traveling exhibit to the future home of Great River Children’s Museum.

On a recent winter morning, Curious George™ swung out of a freight truck and into the museum’s preview space. Tugged behind him was a bit of countryside. He proceeded to set up an apartment within and is actively constructing a small city. Perhaps, if we have enough bananas, Curious George and his crew will restore our building to its original 16-foot ceiling height! Stay tuned to our Facebook page for pictures.

Like our first traveling exhibit, Storyland, this exhibit will be available for a limited time to limited audiences given pandemic conditions. We were able to welcome 40 small groups through Storyland. Our hope is to invite more than 100 small groups for Curious George.

Our museum team will be scheduling reservations with educational partners and childcare providers first because of their already established “pandemic bubbles.” Then, we will invite individual families to reserve time with the exhibit.

Between guests, the space will be disinfected. Our volunteers will be working hard.

Further details will be announced on our website, via our Facebook page and through our e-newsletter. You can sign up to receive the e-newsletter here.

Rest assured, Curious George’s presence in Saint Cloud will not interfere with his television stardom on tpt and other PBS Kids affiliates.

Curious George
Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Company and used under license. Licensed by Universal Studios Licensing LLP. All rights reserved.

READY, SET… EXHIBITS

Dr. Vincent Miles
Dr. Vincent Miles

By: Dr. Vincent Miles
GRCM Board Member and Exhibits Committee chair

2020 was a busy year for the Great River Children’s Museum Exhibits Committee, and 2021 is kicking off with an even higher level of energy as we start to see our vision come to life.

What is an Exhibits Committee?

GRCM’s Exhibits Committee is tasked with taking initial exhibit ideas and concepts of the Board, further conceptualizing them, and readying the concepts to present to exhibit design professionals. Essentially, we’re carrying the baton from the museum master plan vision forward to the best-suited exhibit designers to execute that vision.

The Committee includes Board members and community members with various backgrounds, including early childhood education, mental health, business, higher-education, arts programming, and law (to name a few). Additional community voices include those specifically who have children currently within the target demographic age of the museum.

What has the Exhibits Committee accomplished so far?

After a lengthy process, we closed out 2020 selecting a collaborative joint-bid of three exhibit design-build companies — Split Rock Studios (St. Paul, MN), Haizlip Studio (Memphis, TN), and  KidZibits (St. Paul, MN). 

Here’s how we got there.

In January 2020, we focused on developing the 5 major permanent exhibits identified in the museum master plan. These exhibits include: 1) Great Big River, 2) Climber To The Clouds, 3) Big Woods Workshop, 4) Bridges To The World, and 5) Great Explorations. 

Small workgroups of 4 or 5 members each were formed around each of these exhibits with the goal to discuss, further the concepts, and prepare reports in a consistent format presentable to future consultants and contractors.

Simultaneously, our committee identified 5 children’s museums and other similar organizations to visit and gain insight on exhibit experiences; however, the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with our plans as stay-at-home orders and social distancing became a priority. As a result, we were only able to visit 2 locations: the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. These targeted visits answered many questions we had about the exhibit development process.

As we settled into the new normal that the pandemic brought, we shifted interactions online and continued to hold committee and small group meetings regularly. 

When our new executive director was hired in July 2020, our committee brought her up to speed on exhibit visions and insights captured. 

The next step was to create a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that could be posted online and sent out to known firms that specialize in museum exhibit development. This comprehensive RFQ document was sent to 19 firms (many of which connected to our professional organization, the Association of Children’s Museums), posted on an online database, and posted publicly on our website. The RFQ closed October 23, 2020 and ultimately yielded 12 proposals submitted by many high-quality, capable, and nationally recognized exhibit design firms, including three from Minnesota.

We developed a rubric to evaluate and score the prospective design firms. Then, members of our Exhibits Committee, Board, and Facilities Committee embarked on the monumental task of reading through all of the proposals (some 50 pages each) and scoring them. Scores were compiled and analyzed to determine the best fit for the needs of our museum.

After follow-up interviews and reference checks, we formally made our recommendation to the Board to move forward hiring the collaborative team. Contracts were drafted, reviewed by attorneys, approved by the Board in January 2021, and the contract was signed.

What are the next steps to bring exhibits to life?

Now the fun really starts to take-off. We will use the first half of 2021 to catapult our vision into a workable plan. 

The design firms are set to hold a kick-off event with us in February. This will lead to initial sketches of what our exhibit designs will be. We then move into the schematic phase as they nail down how these exhibits will fit our space and our needs.

Concurrently with this process, our Exhibits Committee will shift some of our focus to additional exhibit planning needs of our museum. Most notably, we will further concept our outdoor play space, explore further STEM and technology offerings of our museum, and begin discussion on smaller minor exhibits to round out our entire exhibit experience for museum visitors.

With the continued support of our community, additional exhibit sponsorships, and ongoing volunteer engagement, we anticipate sharing these one-of-a-kind exhibit details within the year.

These images showcase other collaborative museum design builds from the firms selected to bring Great River Children’s Museum exhibits to life.

Great River Children’s Museum Hires Executive Director

Work continues to bring an exciting new children’s museum to downtown St. Cloud, MN and today the Great River Children’s Museum announced that another milestone had been reached with the hiring of Cassandra (Cassie) Miles as Executive Director. The Executive Director salary is funded in part with money from the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

It’s been four weeks since Cassie stepped into the Executive Director role and her new, temporary office at 111 7th Avenue South. The building, which was donated by Liberty Bank in September of 2018, is quiet now as COVID-19 has halted some of the community engagement work that launched earlier in the year. Regardless, Cassie is energized and ready to lead the project forward. “I am really excited to have a part in creating an imaginative space where families from around Central Minnesota can come to connect, play, explore and discover. There’s really nothing cooler than making a shared dream come to life and I get to work alongside a community that I love and a fantastic Board of Directors and volunteers to do just that! ” 

While the community has quieted some over the last few months, Great River Children’s Museum continues to make progress on their plans to build a children’s museum that will serve the central Minnesota region. Before the initial stay-at-home order was issued, the museum’s board and volunteers had completed initial pre-design work with architects, launched Play Explore Learn Labs, began holding Roundtable discussions with various community groups, and had begun a quiet phase of fundraising. Now, although COVID-19 has caused a disruption, the Board of Directors continues to find ways to pivot where needed and tackle some of the many behind the scenes projects on their plate. For example, while the in-person Play Explore Learn Labs had to be put on hold, the Family Fun Club was born in its place to create activities that would allow families to engage with the museum outside and from their homes. Larger projects like creating detailed exhibit descriptions, meeting with design consultants, capping unused wells, taking soil samples and general preparations for a large remodel project all continued. As other organizations were working to find ways to reopen, the Great River Children’s Museum Board realized that delaying the hiring of an Executive Director would mean pushing a pause button on something that the community is looking forward to and that just didn’t feel like the right decision for the families that the museum will welcome through the doors in the future. 

“We are excited to announce the arrival of our new Executive Director Cassie Miles,” said Board Chair Glen Palm.

“A full time Director will help us strategically focus our efforts so we can achieve the maximum benefit from all the work our volunteers are doing and move closer to our goal of opening the Great River Children’s Museum to serve Central Minnesota.” 

Cassie herself was born and raised in Central Minnesota, just outside of Annandale. She went to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus where she earned her BSB in Finance and BSB in Entrepreneurial Management. She brings her background in the financial sector and her love for locally owned establishments to her new role. She also brings her experience as a mother to an almost 2 year old son who inspires her and reminds her daily that children need safe imaginative spaces to thrive. 

Walking into the space that is the future home of the Great River Children’s Museum has the feeling of something coming full circle for Cassie. “I grew up spending a lot of time at my uncle’s hobby farm and my career started at a bank in Chicago after college. I just think it’s fitting that I get to walk into a building that used to house a hatchery and a bank and make plans for the structure to evolve into something entirely different and wonderful.”
Hiring an Executive Director was just one big step in a series of big steps. The Great River Children’s Museum will continue the quiet phase of raising capital and talking to the community about their hopes and visions for the future museum. Everyone involved with the project knows that taking it day-by-day is necessary when there are a lot of unanswerable questions, but that doesn’t stop them from preparing for the future. “There is a lot going on in the world that we need to pay attention to and learn from each and every day,” Cassie commented. “It can be overwhelming, but it isn’t hard to push ahead with the children’s museum work. Economically, it is going to provide a boost to aid regional recovery from downturns caused by the pandemic. Socially and emotionally, it gives me and everyone else something to look forward to and a place where joy can be experienced and expressed. All we have to do is think about the many smiling faces that will walk through the door of the children’s museum that the community will build together. It’s going to be incredible.”

Family Fun Club

Register for a FREE LIVE Concert online
Saturday, June 20th at 10AM!
Paul Imholte will perform Old McDonald Had a Banjo
joined by drummers, lullabye singers and more!

When you become a member of the new Family Fun Club, you will receive a new activity in your inbox every Saturday all summer long!

Register now at https://greatrivercm.org/familyfunclub/ to guarantee your spot in the live Zoom concert. The concert will be recorded and made available to all!

This is the first of our weekly Family Fun Club activities created by our volunteer team. We will request feedback from participants to help us create quality programming and build a museum that will meet the needs of Central Minnesota families. Join us for fun surprises for the whole family all summer long!

Monica Segura-Schwartz

Monica Segura-Schwartz has been a part of the Great River Children’s Museum from early in the project. She began meeting at Glen Palm and Jane Ellison’s dining room table and has seen the board grow in size along with the scope of the project. Monica worked with Glen and Jane to build a board fully representative of our community. From the building donation to the process of hiring an executive director, she has seen the organization through many milestones and looks forward to many more to come. For Monica it is important to think about representation at all stages of a community project. “There will always be someone who is missing and we need to be aware of that as we move forward,” she says.

Monica brings a wide range of experience to her work as the Secretary on the Board of Directors. She has been a member of the St. Cloud Area School District School Board, GREAT Theater Board of Directors, and the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, among others. She has a broad skill set from past work and study experiences. Her skills in organization, policy and community outreach add insight into many layers of museum board operations. From personnel decisions to organizing files, overarching goals to financial details, Monica adds valuable insights and willingness to take on tasks. She is consistently focused on getting input from as many stakeholders as possible in our community by engaging the museum in a variety of projects, activities and partnerships. She has been a driving force behind the museum’s progress.

Monica is most excited to have a uniquely welcoming community space for families in Central Minnesota. The museum will be a town square of sorts, where people from all backgrounds who share a love for children can gather around shared experiences. Adults and children will play, explore and learn together – about each other and about the wonders of the world around them. These experiences are already happening through the work of the Roundtables, PEL Labs, and community outreach activities. Play will have a permanent home at the Great River Children’s Museum thanks to Monica’s work in furthering the development of this destination attraction that will draw people from town and country to experience all it has to offer.

GRCM Update

Over the last six weeks, the world has changed in ways that none of us could have imagined.  Great River Children’s Museum has continued to make progress even while some activities have been put on pause and many community events have been cancelled.  Committees have continued to meet over Zoom during this time and plan around the COVID-19 crisis as best we can. We know our supporters and our community are interested in our progress.
 
Over the past several months, Play, Explore and Learn (PEL) Labs have been conducted by museum volunteers for the purpose of learning how families engage in a variety of museum activities. These events have been conducted with small groups by invitation. Unfortunately, the PEL Labs planned for April and May have been postponed, but the committee continues to plan and prepare for the time when they can resume. All the while, discussing ways to keep connected to children and families in the community through alternative activies during this challenging time.

Another group of volunteers have been working with a consultant to conduct roundtable discussions with targeted groups around museum development. They have met with two groups of community members, downtown council members and non-profit group representatives, and early childhood teachers. These discussions have added valuable insights at this key phase of development. Additional roundtable sessions will be conducted with other groups of stakeholders when we are able to safely meet in small groups.

Our Exhibits Committee was visiting regional museums to inform their work as they continue to develop the exhibit concepts that were designed by the museum consultants. They visited the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum. Unfortunately, they had to postpone upcoming visits to museums that are now closed due to the COVID-19.

The Personnel Committee continues to forge ahead in the search for an executive director. The position posting garnered a lot of interest and interviews were planned before the Covid crisis. The committee has created a list of top candidates. Then, they conducted phone and Zoom interviews. They are on track to bring a recommendation to the board in May with a goal of bringing on an executive director in June.

This is just a sampling of the good work being done by the board, committees and volunteers working with the Great River Children’s Museum. We look forward to the day when we can again bring community members into the building to engage in this exciting work with us. The excitement of children, families and neighbors is what fuels this work.

Give At Home MN

We may not be able to meet in person during this time, but development work continues with the help of grants and donations from individuals and organizations in our community. In these challenging economic times, GiveMN is running a #GiveAtHomeMN campaign complete with $68,000 in prize drawings. By making any size donation to Great River Children’s Museum between May 1-8th, you help qualify the museum for prizes. Go show your support for a children’s museum in downtown St. Cloud by visiting givemn.org and making a donation during the first week of May. Your participation in this event will demonstrate the abundance of generosity and hope for the future that still exists in this time of crisis. We continue to strive for a better future for the children of Central Minnesota! One where they have a place to come together to create, explore, discover and be inspired through the extraordinary power of play.

Coronavirus Update

Message from the Board regarding COVID-19:
Great River Children’s Museum has decided to cancel all upcoming events – Roundtables and PEL Labs – for the month of March. We are also recommending that all committees meet by Zoom. We will reevaluate the situation at the end of March. Keep safe and be well!

If you would like information for how to talk with children about the virus, PBS Kids has a very nice resource at https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-coronavirus

Three Safes Down…

Three safes were moved out of the bank! The museum is looking less like a bank due to the “sale” of three safes. The safes were offered for free to anyone willing to move them, which was a sizeable effort. Dave Surma, a foreman with El-Jay Plumbing & Heating, had been working in the building on a gas line project for Xcel Energy when he became aware that the safes were available. He decided to take on the project of removing the safes and finding them new homes. It took two full days and a crew of workers to move the safes. They constructed a steel beam gantry spanning two rooms to lift the safes onto carts. They used an elaborate hoist system and winches to pull the safes out around the various obstacles, up a ramp and out the door where the gantry system had to be built again to lift the safes onto the back of a truck. It was quite a production to move the three heavy safes. We are very thankful to have them out and fulfilling their next purpose.

Safe Removal