Our PEL Lab space is looking great because of eleven volunteers from the United Way Day of Caring. On Thursday, September 19, they spent the day painting the 1200 square foot room where we plan to host our PEL Labs and the restroom in that space. The volunteers also dismantled some shelving in an older vault. Volunteers came from several employers, including GeoComm, Minnwest Bank, PCI, Safelite Auto Glass and Toppan Merrill. Thanks for all the hard work!
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Established Great River Children’s Exploratorium as a 501c3
- Met with community leaders/groups
- Joined the Association of Children’s Museums as an emerging museum
- Studied children’s museums in similar sized midwest communities
- Completed a needs assessment
- Collaborated with CentraCare Health System to bring the Healthyville exhibit to the Stearns History Museum
- Created a planning team
- Discussed a second pop-up exhibit in collaboration with early childhood programs
- 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
- 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.
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.
We have a mailbox! The Great River Children’s Museum will be receiving bills and, we hope, donations at the new location. It would bring us joy to receive your family or organization’s holiday photo card. Seeing supporters’ faces will encourage our board and community members as they work to develop a place for children and their caring adults to discover, explore, and be inspired through the extraordinary power of play. We would also welcome notes of support with ideas for activities and exhibits you would like to see in the museum. Address all mail to:
Great River Children’s Museum
111 7th Avenue South
St. Cloud, MN 56301
Everyone at the Great River Children’s Museum hopes you and your loved ones enjoy many play-filled moments together this holiday season!