Great River Children’s Museum Blog

Museum Planning

Work continues with the Vergeront Museum Planners. The Great River Children’s Museum Planning Team is meeting with them to create a museum plan including programming, exhibits and community outreach. The museum planning professionals are accelerating their pace to get our doors open as soon as possible.

They have been helping with programming ideas for our first phase, which is community engagement. It is common for emerging museums to go through what is sometimes called a traveling museum phase involving going out into the community with programming.  We also hope to open a preview space at our location in downtown for play, learning and exploration while building upgrades and exhibit construction takes place in other parts of the building.

Our space is laid out in a way that lends itself well to phased opening. It is essentially made up of three distinct buildings. In the southernmost building, we plan to create an opening in the wall that divides the two storefronts. With  modifications to meet fire code, we will be able to host up to 90 people in this section of our building. In this space, we will host round table discussions to gather community input and invite families to play and explore as we try out programming ideas and gather community input for the next phases of museum development.

Interactivity 2019

The theme of the Association of Children’s Museums conference in Denver, Colorado was Interactivity. Thousands of people came together from children’s museums around the world to share what they had learned in their work of promoting the power of play in the lives of children. Wednesday, May 8th was set aside for emerging museums like ours to focus on the major tasks involved in getting a museum up and running. Thursday, Friday and Saturday consisted of workshops, networking and vendors for emerging and established museums alike. Regardless of their stage of development, everyone was there to support each other’s success. We met many creative and generous people who were all pooling their talents to lift up the cause of playful learning. 

The keynote speaker, Temple Grandin, spoke of her experiences growing up with an autistic brain and how her unique way of thinking has helped her develop innovative solutions for problems in the cattle industry. She encouraged the work of children’s museums to provide places for children to play and explore the world in ways that will help them build brains that will solve real world problems now and in the future. She is an advocate for neurodiversity and is a shining example of why our world needs all kinds of minds.

Members of our group were able to connect with children’s museum professionals from Minnesota, many of whom are leaders in their field and have already been major supporters for this project. We were able to visit with some premier exhibit developers at the vendor fair from right here in our great state who are ready to get on board designing world class exhibits for our museum in Central Minnesota.

Inspiring Generosity

We are incredibly thankful for the generosity of Mike and Karel Helgeson who have stepped up to help launch the Great River Children’s Museum. The Helgeson’s donations have been extremely timely and impactful, enabling the board to sign off on work with consultants, architects and museum planners with confidence. The drawings provided by these professionals will help everyone rally together toward a purpose we can clearly see. Karel’s vision and faith in the people of Central Minnesota to join together in support of this museum are inspirational!

Karel Helgeson
Karel Helgeson

Karel has been a member of the board since the summer of 2018. At the start of this year, she began functioning as secretary. Her creativity and experience working on the launch of GREAT Theater’s new Helgeson Learning Lab theater have been highly valuable. Karel recently arranged for the board and planning group to visit the Science Museum of Minnesota where her sister works in the exhibit building area. The experience of watching exhibits be created is another way that she has helped make the mission of the Great River Children’s Museum more tangible.

Donuts to the Capitol

Greg Reigstad and Sara McKeever took a box of Cold Spring Bakery goods down to the state Capitol where they met up with Rep. Dan Wolgamott. Their task was to convince the Legacy Finance Committee to advance a bill requesting $525,000 for museum development. The baked goods fulfilled a tradition that calls for treats to be served by a congressperson presenting their first bill in committee. As a father of young children, Rep. Wolgamott was able to add a personal touch as he spoke about why he put forth this bill. Sara talked about her experience as a kindergarten teacher, then gave a presentation explaining the history of this project and what we hope to accomplish in the future. Greg spoke from the perspective of a grandfather as he fielded questions and provided some comic relief. We enjoyed the opportunity to share our project and hope to see funds appropriated from the Arts and Culture Legacy Fund over the course of the next two biennium.

This funding would go a long way toward renovating the building to make it suitable for public events and creating exhibit spaces on the main floor. You can help by contacting your legislators and letting them know you would like them to support H.F. 396, authored by both Dan Wolgamott and Tama Theis. Please reach out to your senators as well. Thanks to the work of Senator Jerry Relph who introduced S.F. 645, we will have the chance to present our case to the Senate committee in early April. Follow the progress of these two bills at https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/

Science Museum Tour

The Great River Children’s Museum Board and Facilities Committee was invited to tour the Science Museum of Minnesota on March 6th. They were able to go behind the scenes to learn about exhibit design and fabrication. The group was impressed by the size and scope of the work done by the 27 person staff who build exhibits for museums around the world. Each exhibit is custom designed and built for a particular museum with their unique community in mind. There are infinite possibilities for what could be done. The tour sparked the imagination of all who attended. The biggest takeaway for Buddy King was that it takes between six months and two years to bring an idea from development to display in the museum. This gave everyone a sense of the timeline for planning the remodel and exhibit spaces. The group left feeling very excited about the future of the Great River Children’s Museum.

Virtual Tour

The first installment of our video tour of the building is on YouTube. Monica Segura-Schwartz and Glen Palm walk through the banking section of the building, give a little history, and share their dreams for the future. Our building is really three separate buildings, so it takes quite a while to tour the whole thing. We look forward showing you a little more in future segments and introducing you to more of the board members. Stay tuned!

Milestone Volunteer Event

We held our first Volunteer Discovery Event on March 4th in the meeting room of the future museum. Volunteers were able to get an overview of the project from start to future. They toured our building to better appreciate all the space available for us. Everyone was able to connect and brainstorm about the possibilities for the museum. It was a successful event that will definitely be repeated. As we are planning community outreach events and the work that needs to be done on the building, we would like to utilize all the community volunteers we can. We know that many of you are wanting to be part of this exciting project. Be sure to sign up on our website to get notified of our next volunteer engagement event. 

Our Friends at SCHEELS

A wonderful year-end surprise came to our PayPal account thanks to everyone at the St. Cloud SCHEELS store. The Great River Children’s Museum received a generous donation via the museum’s website. Chris Theisen, Assistant Store Leader, shared with us that, “SCHEELS is very happy to provide this donation. Being familiar with how Liberty donated the building really caught our eye, and we just wanted to be a part of what we agree will make a great addition to our community.” 

It is touching when people take the initiative to improve their community in whatever ways they are able. We all can be inspired by this company’s focus on community involvement.

Development Timeline

The museum project began in 2012 at the dining room table of Glen Palm and Jane Ellison. It has gone through many stages in its evolution. Now, as it begins to take on physical form at the downtown location, let us take a look back at the many milestones along the way.

2012

  • Established Great River Children’s Exploratorium as a 501c3
  • Met with community leaders/groups

2014

  • Joined the Association of Children’s Museums as an emerging museum
  • Studied children’s museums in similar sized midwest communities
  • Completed a needs assessment

2016

  • Collaborated with CentraCare Health System to bring the Healthyville exhibit to the Stearns History Museum

2017

  • Created a planning team
  • Discussed a second pop-up exhibit in collaboration with early childhood programs

2018

  • Met with Minnesota Children’s Museum staff and toured $30 million expansion
  • Attended webinar with SCSU faculty/staff about collaboration between children’s museums & universities
  • Explored building sites for a future location
  • Recruited and expanded board membership to 14 members
  • Ran a successful matching campaign for a $25,000 grant
  • Formed committees and refined the mission statement during a board retreat
  • Met with museum planners Jeanne Vergeront and Jim Roe
  • Changed name to Great River Children’s Museum
  • Finalized building donation by Liberty Bank in downtown St. Cloud

2019

  • Legislation introduced for Legacy funding

Contact your representatives and ask them to support HF396 which provides funding for the Great River Children’s Museum. This bill was authored by Dan Wolgamott and Tama Theis. The companion bill in the senate is SF645 and was introduced by Senator Jerry Relph.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

At this time of year and this stage in our project, it seemed appropriate to share our board update in the form of a metaphor.

If a children’s museum were a snowman…

If a children’s museum were a snowman, we would be finished rolling the biggest of the snowballs. Our organization is being led by a strong board with a shared mission, which makes for a solid foundation. We also have a physical foundation in our solid, historic downtown building.

At this point, we are gathering snow for the midsection, the heart of the organization, which is our community. We are bringing on new people like IT experts, architects, and marketing specialists to help in creating a space where families will gather like so many snowflakes, all unique but united in play.

The snowball for the head is just beginning to come together. It is always the quickest and easiest to roll, but it is also a challenge to lift up to the top and is critical to the finished product. What’s a snowman without a head? A museum without a director? The search is beginning.

The final step of dressing up our snowman will involve many decisions. Will our snowman wear a beret or a top hat? Is it going to have buttons and if so how many? We have a board visioning session coming in February. This will be the next big step in guiding our work. We look forward to getting the community’s input on the many choices ahead.

We have a great team all pitching in together and we are having a blast. Rolling snowballs and stacking them on top of each other takes a lot of muscles all pushing and lifting in unison. Board members, consultants, volunteers, and donors in our community can all take pride in our accomplishments as the finished product takes shape.