Great River Children’s Museum Blog

The Value of Children’s Museums

“Welcoming,” “flourishing,” “connected,” “community” – these are a few of the inspiring words you will find in the newly completed 63-page museum plan that has come out of a series of sessions with museum planners, Jeanne Vergeront and Jim Rowe, early childhood experts and children’s museum leaders. Over the course of several months, the planning group has crafted a clear and comprehensive plan for a museum in downtown Saint Cloud. They envision positive changes for children and families in Central Minnesota and beyond as a result of the Great River Children’s Museum’s presence in the community.

The Museum will bring expanding opportunities to the Greater St. Cloud Area. This will be possible because the community will place a value on play as essential to children’s learning and wellbeing. Families of all backgrounds will be connected around a shared interest in their children. Children will be prepared for a more culturally diverse community and a changing world. The entire community will recognize that it thrives when its children thrive! 

PEL Labs and Roundtables

You may be wondering… What is a PEL Lab? What happens around round tables?  The Museum is beginning to reach out strategically to community members to gather input into museum creation. Board members and community volunteers are putting together two unique series of events, each with its own purpose.

Play, Explore and Learn Labs, or PEL Labs for short, are events for adults and children to come to into the museum for a small sample of a museum experience. The goal is for the Museum to learn how to design exhibits and programming that work for our community. A group of professionals will design each experience and invite families to come play and explore. Museum volunteers will use this as an opportunity to learn what works well and what doesn’t. The information will be used for planning museum spaces, exhibits and activities.

Roundtables are opportunities for board members and the museum planning team to ask key questions of community members. Through these discussions, the Museum hopes to hear from a wide range of diverse voices from throughout Central Minnesota. This input will help the Museum understand what the community wants in a museum and how best to serve the Greater St. Cloud Area. There is great value in taking time to sit around a table and talk face-to-face about big ideas for improving a community, in this case, through the creation of a children’s museum.

If you would like to take part in either of these events, please make sure you have completed our survey. We have been collecting input over the last six months via this same survey. It has been circulating at events and on social media. If you have not yet completed it, we would like to hear your voice. At the end of the survey, there is an opportunity to express your interest in participating in roundtable discussions. Thank you for your input into the project!

Creative Imaginings

Over the past several months, the planning group has been having many conversations with museum planners Jeanne Vergeront and Jim Roe and JLG architects to develop creative concepts for how to make the best use of the building. The museum planners have captured and clearly expressed the philosophy of the museum, the goals for various exhibit areas, and targets for future programming. The architects have dug into all the nooks and crannies of the building and created some early drawings based on the museum’s expressed goals. The museum planning group will now put these two products together to come up with one unified presentation to be shared with the community. We are excited to get your feedback and input as we dig deeper into the details of building design, exhibit concepts, and museum programming. The images will also be a big help as we kick off our capital campaign, raising the funds needed to bring these dreams to life.

Buddy King

Buddy King

When Buddy King joined the board in the fall, he came at a crucial time for the organization. We were growing the board, accepting a building donation, and taking on a lot of responsibility. Buddy jumped into the project with both feet and a passion for the mission of creating a children’s museum to serve children and families in Central Minnesota. Buddy has served as the director of the Roosevelt Boys and Girls Club. While in this position, he enjoyed supporting kids in the community, creating engaging programs, and empowering staff and community members to positively influence youth. Since leaving the Boys and Girls Club in March of this year, Buddy has been able to dedicate more time to the museum and Higher Work Collaborative, a non profit organization that focuses on the needs of disadvantaged or underrepresented populations. Music is another of Buddy’s talents that he is looking forward to sharing with the community at the concert on August 20th. Hopefully you can take advantage of this opportunity to have fun, make music and meet Buddy and his friends!

Community Contributions

Community members continue to step up and generously contribute to bringing the museum to life.

Coborn’s Inc. has donated a refrigerator for the museum building. This has been very helpful for the frequent meetings happening at the museum. Cool refreshments are much appreciated by our volunteers.

Creating an opening between two main floor rooms, to make it possible to offer programming for children and families, required some simple remodeling to meet city codes. It proved challenging to find a commercial contractor who could do the work during the busy construction season. Then generous bids came back from community members who were able to complete the construction project. Soon United Way volunteers will help with painting to put the final touches on these rooms.

Many little adjustments needed to be made to bring the building into compliance with fire codes and ADA. One of our volunteers pulled up and leveled the paving stones at the back of the building to bring the rear entrance into ADA compliance as pictured below.

Sidewalk before
Before
Sidewalk After
After

We continue to be grateful for the involvement of community members who are willing to give of their time and energy to bring a children’s museum to the St. Cloud Area. We look forward to using the newly remodeled spaces to learn about putting together quality programming with children and families as well as gathering groups from the community to collect input.

Making a Documentary

What do you do with a former bank building while you wait for it to be transformed into a children’s museum? Make a documentary about a bankrobber, of course! The building was recently used by a crew of filmmakers to reenact the crimes of the Fishing Hat Bandit. According to the creators of the film:

“The Fishing Hat Bandit (working title) is a feature length documentary about the bank robbery spree of John Whitrock, also known as the Fishing Hat Bandit. Whitrock robbed 23 banks over the course of 18 months before being apprehended in Edina in January 2005. The film will include interviews with Whitrock, several of the bank tellers he victimized, the bank manager who helped catch the bandit, the two FBI lead investigators and others.”

“This film will not just focus on the Fishing Hat Bandit’s crimes, but also on the experiences of the bank tellers he victimized. Often, crime stories sensationalize the crime narrative with little regard for the victims. This film will tell a balanced story that illustrates the resilience of the many bank employees affected and includes a strong restorative justice theme.”

The timing of the project was perfect! The teller stations were still intact and hadn’t been used for museum purposes yet. The board happily agreed to share space with this creative project. It will be fun to see the final product!

History Museum Music Event

In collaboration with the Stearns History Museum, Great River Children’s Museum volunteers will offer the second in a series of family music events. The first featured Jane Ellison and Glen Palm and friends along with the Lullaby Singers who shared lullabies from various cultural backgrounds. It was a beautiful night for an outdoor concert!

On August 20th from 6:00 – 7:00pm at the Stearns History Museum, you can join board member Buddy King and his friends for interactive drumming. It is sure to be fun whether rain or shine!

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.