Great River Children’s Museum Blog

State Legislature Awards Great River Children’s Museum $7 Million in Cash Bonding for Capital Project

Museum construction can begin!

Schematic of the main entrance to the museum and the outdoor exhibit space

On May 22, 2023, the Minnesota State Legislature voted to approve an all cash bonding bill which includes a $7mm award to Great River Children’s Museum for the construction phase of the project. The funding will allow the museum to begin construction and set a target grand opening date of late-2024.

“We couldn’t be more excited and grateful for this additional funding. We’ve been working hard to raise the funds we need to build an incredible children’s museum. Even amidst rising costs and inflation, local families and organizations have stepped up to make their support known, pledging significant dollars to keep this project moving forward,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “The cash award from the State of Minnesota, combined with private donations, will allow us to get our doors open and serve the families of Central Minnesota.”

Great River Children’s Museum has been raising funds privately to develop a place where every child and their caring adults can create, explore, discover, and be inspired together in play. The museum will reside in downtown St. Cloud, and serve all of Central Minnesota. The organization has been working with three exhibit companies to finalize core museum exhibits; local architect GLT Architects; and local contractor BCI Construction, so the museum could be shovel ready now that the funding is in place.

“We are grateful to our local Representative Dan Wolgamott for authoring the funding request in the House, to Representative Bernie Perryman for her support of our House bill, and to Senator Aric Putnam for leading the charge in the Senate,” Miles said. “The generosity of our local community, in conjunction with state bond funds, allow us to work on getting the museum built. We will concentrate our fundraising efforts going forward on increasing accessibility to the museum, enriching our play-filled experiences through programming, and the long-term stability of the organization.”

Leveraging our voices: Uplifting our shared mission at InterActivity

At the end of April, the Great River Children’s Museum team traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana for the 2023 Association of Children’s Museums InterActivity Conference. Executive Director Cassie Miles, Program and Outreach Manager Kylie Conover, and Board and Committee Member Vincent Mies represented the museum and participated in three days of conversations, panels, and information sessions. And, of course, there was time for play throughout as well! The Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans hosted 700+ ACM InterActivity attendees in their new space which sits on over 8 acres of park land.

InterActivity attendees come from children’s museums that span the globe, from South Korea and Singapore, to the island of Curaçoa.

For this and many other reasons, attending the ACM InterActivity Conference is a great way to make connections to other children’s museum professionals, access resources to support programming and operations, and to discuss opportunities for the advancement of our shared mission. These connections are extremely valuable to our team now and in the future when we are open to the public.

Program & Outreach Manager, Kylie was able to give some insight on building meaningful connections with communities as a presenter this year at ACM alongside Beth Housewert from Golisano Children’s Museum. 

The focus of the session that Kylie took part in was on community engagement during the emerging stages of a museum’s life. Kylie and Beth posed 4 different questions to consider before starting a program to a room of emerging museum professionals. Kylie spoke specifically about our Play Explore and Learn Labs, Camp Beyond, work alongside Yes Network, and our fantastic Pop-Up Museum Experiences in partnership with Great River Regional Library. In each case we are able to take what we’re learning from communities throughout Central Minnesota and incorporate feedback into future program plans. The work that we are doing now will set us up for success when we open our doors. Listening to the needs of our community is the best metric for our program planning.

Executive Director, Cassie Miles, participated in leadership roundtable discussions and sessions focused on guiding the vision forward, building a network of invested community members, and supporting children and families through the world’s ever evolving technological changes. Panel sessions provoked thoughtful discussions about integrating expertise from other sectors, connecting with community leaders, financial forecasting, and leveraging the voices of children’s museums in support of lifelong playful learning. No matter the topic, access to play and the power of play to empower children’s creativity and curiosity is at the core of what we do.

In the words of Dr. Calvin Mackie, keynote speaker at the opening day of the event, “The highest form of wealth does not come from making money, it comes from making a difference” and there may be no better way to summarize how we feel after meeting an incredible group of people at InterActivity 2023.

Lt. Governor Flanagan visits Great River Children’s Museum as part of state funding request project site tour

GRCM fund request passed House vote; awaiting Senate vote

Lt. Governor Flanagan discussing the positive impact of a new children’s museum in Central Minnesota.

Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan visited the future home of Great River Children’s Museum April 7, 2023 as part of a state funding request project site tour.

Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM) has requested up to $7 million in state funding. If granted, the funding would allow the museum to begin construction – which will take approximately one year – and set a target grand opening date. 

“We are so grateful for the generosity and early support of the museum from donors,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “With a grant from the state, we can fully move forward with construction of the museum.”

From Left: Evan Larson (GLT Architects), Mayor Dave Kleis, Kylie Conover (GRCM Program & Outreach Manager), Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Cassie Miles (GRCM Executive Director), Ayan Omar (Director of Equity Services, District 742), Glen Palm (GRCM Board Chair), Representative Dan Wolgamott and daughter Polly, Dr. Vincent Miles and son Desmond, Senator Aric Putnam, Anisa Hagi-Mohamed (artist, entrepreneur and member of GRCM Art Task-Force).
Not Pictured: Tomoko Rebeck (ECFE Early Childhood Educator).

“State funding does not stop our efforts,” Miles went on to explain. “We will work to raise $2 million from our community to increase accessibility to the museum, enrich play-filled experiences through programming, and build out the long-term stability of the organization. You’ll find GRCM at several community events throughout the region over the coming months.” 

The funding request is a bi-partisan effort led by local legislators. Dan Wolgamott and Bernie Perryman co-authored and advocated for the funding request in the House. The House passed a capital investment bill March 6. 

Senator Aric Putnam is leading the charge in the Senate. The Senate has yet to pass an investment bill.

Flanagan’s visit to GRCM is part of a tour highlighting projects and organizations that are eager for legislators to pass a bonding bill.

Lt. Governor Flanagan amazed at Great River Children’s Museum’s Headwaters exhibit

“What a gem this is going to be for your community. This is truly going to be a space for community connection,” Flanagan said. In reference to legislative efforts to pass a bonding bill, Flanagan stated, “We shouldn’t be putting politics ahead of opportunities for children and families.”

Once open, GRCM will be Minnesota’s second largest children’s museum, serving more than 500,000 residents in 12 counties and 64 school districts. Annual attendance is projected to be more than 125,000.

In 2022, GRCM used current capital campaign donations for interior demolition of the site, so the museum is “shovel ready” when construction funding is secured. At the same time, GRCM has been working with architects and museum exhibit designers to finalize plans and begin exhibit fabrication.

Right now, the museum’s volunteers are continuing their fundraising and are working to gather more volunteers for the next phase, with several outreach events and activities on the calendar.

Design rendering of Great River Children’s Museum in downtown St. Cloud

About Great River Children’s Museum
Great River Children’s Museum is an emerging museum that will reside in downtown St. Cloud and serve all of Central Minnesota.

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 is currently 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

Follow progress at greatrivercm.org

It’s just the little things: how attention to detail creates an enjoyable museum experience

By Mike Helgeson, Co-Chair Facilities Committee and Cassie Miles, Executive Director

Details make all the difference…

Over the last several years, Great River Children’s Museum has gone from an idea to nearly fully designed and prepped for construction. At over 31,000 sq ft, thousands of decisions have to be made before this museum can open and be exactly the kind of joy-filled, high quality, playful experience that Central Minnesota deserves. 

Mike’s granddaughter, Greta at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul

In subtle or not so subtle ways, details like font selection and sink height can impact every visitor’s experience differently. While we fundraise, we’re making sure that each aspect of the museum that guests and staff might encounter is well thought out. Just ask Mike Helgeson, Co-Chair of Great River Children’s Museum’s Facilities Committee. Over the last two years, Mike and others have been paying attention to elements that may go unnoticed by some – in recent outings to the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, Mike and is wife Karel get to see how furniture and fixtures outside of the exhibit spaces make a meaningful difference in the way their granddaughter is able to enjoy her visit. 

Mike’s granddaughter, Greta at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul

“Karel and I have enjoyed time with our 2-1/2 year old granddaughter, Greta, at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. During her first visit she was hesitant and mostly liked watching other children play. On later visits, she would dash off to the areas she liked and would become totally absorbed doing those activities as she became more confident.”

“I have observed how important the design of the space is to the child’s experience,” said Mike, “For instance, having a lower railing on the stairways makes it safer and easier to use. Also, having colored cushions [on general seating] to play on makes the space fun and inviting.”

And Mike should know that simply ‘making something work’ is not the goal. He’s watched the building that was once home to his family’s chicken hatchery take on a myriad of different functions over the years. The Temporary Gallery will serve a similar purpose. Proudly sponsored by Mike’s father, Don Helgeson and his partner Sue Shepard, our Temporary Gallery will host traveling exhibits from other museums, showcase local art, and more.

Setup of the Curious George Traveling Exhibit in 2021

Paul, Greta, Karel and Mike Helgeson

“I am excited with the progress Great River Children’s Museum has made. In the future I look forward to the same when the museum is open and we can bring our granddaughter to enjoy the space.”

Mike Helgeson, Co-Chair Facilities Committee

Children’s Museums: why they are essential to our children, families, and greater Minnesota communities

Join us by contacting your legislators today and encouraging support of children’s museums and the families they serve.

By Peter Olson, Cassandra Miles, and Clara Wicklund with input from the members of the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum coalition

For some of us, the giddy excitement of a school field trip to the museum is a treasured memory. We remember what it was like to walk underneath towering dinosaur skeletons, to discover what electrical currents look like, to build teetering contraptions with our hands, and to climb through mazes of tunnels and ladders. We were able to carry forward the feelings of wondrous, magic inner-child awe because of the opportunities we were provided as children. Without a doubt, learning through multi- sensory played filled experiences is long lasting, impactful, and should be afforded for every child. That is where children’s museums come in.

Children’s museums across Minnesota exist because the power of play is invaluable when it comes to early childhood learning and brain development. Children’s museums understand that play, like a workout for the brain, builds and strengthens the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that acts as the problem solver, creator, social-emotional behavior moderator, and plan-maker. The evidence continues to grow that play is the best way for children to learn and flourish, which is why every region of Minnesota has its own children’s museum or is working to establish one right now.

Children’s museums are an essential part of Minnesota’s educational and economic ecosystems. Minnesota is home to twelve (12) children’s museums, ranging in size and scope, ten (10) of which are spread throughout greater Minnesota.

Children’s museums are some of the only spaces where children and families in greater Minnesota have access to quality, informal learning through play. The benefits of these museums are huge. Not only do they provide essential learning spaces, cross-cultural connections, and communities for our youngest learners, they also bring great economic value to each region through job creation and tourism.

According to the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 Report, Museums and other nonprofit cultural organizations have a return of more than $5 in tax revenue for every $1 they receive in funding from all levels of government. This translates to over 726,000 American jobs and an annual generation of $50 billion in the U.S. economy, based on AAM’s Museums as Economic Engines National Report.

In St. Cloud, Great River Children’s Museum has been in the works since 2012 when a group of educators, parents, and community advocates recognized the need for a children’s museum in Central Minnesota.

Liberty Bank MN donated a 25,000 sq ft space in late 2018 and an Executive Director was hired in mid-2020 with Legacy funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. A team of dedicated volunteers has conducted feedback sessions, engaged an architect, exhibit designers, and construction manager, and has engaged nearly 10,000 children and their caring adults in programs, camps, Play Explore, and Learn Labs and pop-up exhibit experiences over the last three years. The museum has partnered with ECFE, YES Network, Great River Regional Library, Boys and Girls Clubs, arts groups, childcare centers and schools throughout the region, all while working to raise the funds necessary to bring this community asset to life.

Beyond the benefits of play, the museum will have a meaningful economic impact. According to Explore Minnesota, the average museum visitor from out of town will spend $38 beyond the cost of admission at nearby establishments. With an anticipated annual visitation of over 125,000, Great River Children’s Museum will bring monies into the region, create direct and indirect job opportunities, and improve the quality of life for the many families who currently, or will in the future, call St. Cloud home.

Even as critical community assets, children’s museums across greater Minnesota face deep inequities and funding barriers each year. Some children’s museums receive automatic funding, while others have to reapply every time funding is reappropriated. Without a streamlined and equitable funding process, some of our children’s museums are required to expend precious resources on grant applications and lobbying while they should be focused on the needs of their evolving communities, building new spaces to meet increasing demand, completing needed repairs on aging facilities, and creating new exhibits to motivate learning.

That is why 10 children’s museums across the state have come together to create awareness of the important work of children’s museums and their statewide impact, in addition to advocating for fair and equitable state funding across all Minnesota’s children’s museums.

With a collective voice, the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum coalition plays an important role in encouraging the Legislature and governor to remember Greater Minnesota children’s museums, and the families they serve, when directing the state’s surplus. With state support, Greater Minnesota children’s museums will serve more than 700,000 guests annually, welcoming visitors from all of Minnesota’s 87 counties, and many states and countries.

To ensure children’s museum funding equitably benefits children across the state, the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum coalition has proposed the following for the 2023 legislative session:

  • Capital investments — One-time investment of $31 million of budget surplus money in 10 children’s museums across the state.
  • Department of Education — Extend already existing $50,000 base funding to all children’s museums across the state, currently only reaching select children’s museums.
  • Legacy Fund — Provide equitable funding with $150,000 equally directed to each children’s museum to ensure Art, Culture, and Heritage funds benefit Minnesota children more fairly.

No matter where you live in Minnesota, play is powerful. Play is how we relate to the world and to each other and, as humans, we are wired to learn most naturally through playful exploration.

Children’s museums support foundational development, human connection, and increase cross cultural competency and social awareness, in a unique and profound way — by helping children make sense of the world and think critically through interactive, hands-on, multi-sensory learning experiences. At children’s museums, the next generation learns how to get along, work together, and how to solve problems cooperatively. Equitably funding Minnesota’s children’s museums is a direct investment in our shared future and prosperity.

Please join us in reaching out to all of our Minnesota Legislators and encouraging them to act now by voting in support of funding for all of Greater Minnesota’s Children’s Museums.

Members of the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition are WonderTrek Children’s Museum in Baxter-Brainerd, The Works Museum in Bloomington, The Children’s Discovery Center in Breckenridge, Duluth Children’s Museum, Otter Cove Children’s Museum in Fergus Falls, Judy Garland & Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids, Wheel and Cog Children’s Museum in Hutchinson, Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato, Great River Children’s Museum in St. Cloud and The Village in Willmar.

Resources

Unlocking creativity: how art supports a child’s development

By Jill Dubbledee Kuhn, Anisa Hagi-Mohamed, Jo Svaren-Eichler, Heather Allen

Why is GRCM inviting local Central Minnesota artists to fill all three levels of the museum inside and out with art? Exposing children to various types of art encourages imaginative and creative thinking skills that benefit a lifetime. It is our hope that the various types of art generate conversations and new ways of reframing ideas. 

Ways art supports children in development and learning:

  1. Art fosters discovery and experimentation.  

“One of my favorite childhood games was to fill a sink with water and put nail polish into it to see what happened when the color burst up the surface, merging into each other as a floating, changing art” -Helen Frankenthaler

This child would later grow up to become an American painter and major contributor to the style of Abstract Expressionism after the post war era.  Who knew? All children are born artists. Not all children become artists like Helen; however, all children can carry the skills of expression and critical thinking into adulthood.

Kids create their art on an easel during a GRCM Play Explore Learn (PEL) Lab.
  1. Art nurtures and builds communication skills.

One year old Stella has already been exposed to the elements of art found in the shapes, colors and textures from her board books, toys and even clothing. This is one way she is learning about the world. 

  1. Art is all inclusive. 

Art builds a vocabulary from our five senses. It speaks many languages and tells many stories. It never goes out of style. It is for all ages. It can make an ordinary space sing with joy and wonder. It reminds us of the children we all once were as we grew in identity, confidence and personality.

Local artists: Team up with us!

During the coming year of museum demolition, design and construction, we are seeking to engage artists with connections to St. Cloud and Central Minnesota to design and build work that will be integrated into the museum. We are seeking to connect with and engage artists interested in working with the museum- as teachers, public artists and other creative partners.

As we envision a welcoming, flourishing Greater St. Cloud where all children look forward to a future that offers expanding opportunities, we center play as essential to children’s learning and increased connections to the diversities of the world around them. 

Great River Children’s Museum has launched a major capital campaign to raise $13.5mm and remodel a 25,000 square foot building located 2 blocks west of the metro bus depot and immediately north of highway 23 on 7th Ave. S in downtown St. Cloud. We have engaged with professional exhibit designers (Split Rock Studios-St. Paul, MN, Haizlip Studio-Memphis, TN, and Boss Display-Columbus, OH), architects (GLT Architects-St. Cloud, MN) and construction management (BCI Construction-Sauk Rapids, MN). This team was selected based on their talents and their belief that there are opportunities at every stage of development to maximize learning, playfulness, and involve our Central Minnesota neighbors in this effort.

Our intention is to engage artists in a variety of roles as we build and develop the museum. To start, we would like all interested artists to Complete This Interest Form

The above Google Form is our preferred submission method. If you are unable to use the form or do not have a google account login, alternative submission includes submitting up to 5 work samples including a list of relevant experience and a statement of interest to art@greatrivercm.org. Video submissions are also accepted.  Submissions are due on or before January 22nd, 2023.

Eligibility:

  • Artists with ties to Central Minnesota will receive priority consideration. 
  • Artists who have experience working on large scale projects are encouraged to apply as well as professional artists who are new to the field of public art. 

Selection Process:

  • Artist interest form submissions and work samples will be reviewed by the GRCM Art Team.
  • A selected group of artists will be invited to develop proposals.
  • Three (3) artists will be chosen to produce designs for specific high-priority locations within the museum.
  • Remaining artists will remain under consideration for over a dozen other art needs within the museum.

Please send any questions to: art@greatrivercm.org

All inquiries will receive a response by January 22nd.

More information about Great River Children’s Museum or stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter.

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