Museum exhibit design taking shape

You’re invited to sponsor an exhibit

By Heidi L. Everett, PhD GRCM board member and marketing committee chair

What began as a chicken hatchery, eventually morphed into an athletic club, and turned into a bank ultimately will transform into Great River Children’s Museum. Recent initial design schematics hinted at the shape of things to come.

On July 20, 2021, our exhibit designers shared their vision with museum board members and volunteers as well as our construction partner BCI

Split Rock Studios and Haizlip Studios both have decades experience designing children’s museums, and they spent hours this spring walking the halls of the 25,000-square-foot building generously donated by Liberty Bank in downtown St. Cloud. Team members lifted ceiling tiles, peeked under flooring, marveled at the racquet-ball-court-turned conference room, navigated awkward floor transitions between building additions and utility spaces trying to envision what the future museum visitor experience could be.

As designer Reb Haizlip put it, “It was a strange path – awkward and inefficient.”

So the exhibit design team spent a few months reimagining every inch of the space from top to bottom, side to side, inside and out to reconfigure it and to propose an “amazing communal space where everybody is dialed in. The heart of the museum,” Reb said.

The initial design schematics celebrated the diversity and richness of experiences in Central Minnesota, from the ever-changing marketplace with its unique foods, textiles and spices to the many meandering ways in which kiddos can engage, explore and understand water as a recreational platform, habitat, energy source, sacred element and essential piece of commerce.

Climber to the Clouds – an exhibit proudly sponsored by the Coborn Family Foundation – will be the centerpiece of the museum. This multi-story, interactive climbing structure is forecasted to create a flurry of physical and intellectual activities for thrill seekers, storm chasers, and weather enthusiasts alike with its awe-inspiring heights, colors and sound. 

The engineering zone will provide ample space for little ones and their caregivers to harness the wind, shed some light on solar power circuits, build bridges and work with water as an energy source.

Another exhibit will showcase a magical experience of 24-hours in Minnesota and include trees, a tree house, rope bridge, and campsite. This space will play with light and sound transitions between night and day including bird song, loons calling, wind blowing through trees, the crackle of a campfire, and northern lights. The large tent will be ideal for reading books by day and telling stories with shadow puppets as night falls in the exhibit. Stepping stones will invite kiddos to cross the headwaters of the Mississippi, and a canoe will inspire new adventures downstream.

These are just descriptions of the many delightful details soon to follow. In September, we hope to have detailed exhibit designs to share for our core exhibits once the team makes revisions.

In other exciting news, next month Great River Children’s Museum will be announcing our second $1 million exhibit sponsor and details of that exhibit. 

If you’d like to join the Coborn Family Foundation and other exhibit sponsors, please contact our Executive Director Cassie Miles at 320-200-4110 extension 101 or cassie.miles@greatrivercm.org to learn which exhibits are still available.

If your organization is interested in becoming a corporate sponsor of Great River Children’s Museum in a different capacity, please connect with Cassie as well to discuss options.
Finally, to learn more about the process of exhibit design up until now, read our blog Ready, Set … Exhibits.

Our Collaborations with Lindgren Childcare Center and ECFE

Lucy Bauer – District 742 ECFE Educator

As a District 742 ECFE parent educator, some of my work is with parents and children one to one. A mom of a 20-month-old toddler was delighted that we could have one of our weekly meetings at the Curious George exhibit in the GRCM preview space. The mom had seen something on Facebook about the museum but wasn’t sure about trying it out. She mentioned that as a first-time mom she wanted to know more about what was available to her and her toddler in the community. 

We met at the museum during an evening time slot, convenient in mom’s work schedule with Grandma and Grandpa coming along. It was amazing! The little one was all about discovery! He easily found the toddler friendly parts of each exhibit: soft furry friends in their habitats, fruits and veggies to put in and take out of baskets, coloring with Grandma, opening little doors to find George and his friends, and turning the big wheels to help George wash the windows. The adults’ eyes were sparkling as they looked around at all the possibilities for play and tried out many activities themselves. The whole family was especially intrigued with the conveyor belt and blocks, planning together to keep the blocks moving. They loved seeing the toddler figure out that he could reach high enough to put the block in at the top of the last ramp, watch it go down, then pick it up and carry it right back and do it again!

What this family enjoyed the most was that they all had fun playing together! They are looking forward to more opportunities with the Great River Children’s Museum. As an educator and a grandparent, I am excited about the future of the children’s museum. It will be a special place for community groups and families to move, play and learn! Thank you GRCM for envisioning and creating this fabulous resource for our community.

Martina Juvera-Paul – SCSU Lindgren Childcare Center Managing Director

We were fortunate to have our Lindgren Early Learning Center children and families visit Great River Children’s Museum’s preview space for both the Storyland and Curious George exhibits. The children were thrilled to share in a special day date with their caregiver. Our families only had great things to say about GRCM! The preview space promotes families and children to connect in meaningful ways, through quality focused time & without household distractions. A couple of parents shared how they loved having time away from home with their child, where it’s so easy to get sucked into competing demands. 

GRCM’s preview space is set-up for children to freely explore and use their imaginations with age appropriate, high-interest materials. Play is powerful and critical for early childhood development. This space fosters learning through a wide variety of activities that promote critical thinking and problem solving skills. Our children and families especially loved the features from the Curious George exhibit that promoted teamwork and collaboration, such as the construction site and sidewalk produce stand. Communication, persistence, creativity and curiosity are other important skills that the exhibit features are intentionally geared to foster.

We are eager to see how GRCM evolves and grows. What a gift for Central Minnesota to have a space especially crafted for children and their families to explore together in a rich, educational environment that nurtures connection. We are so excited for this beautiful project and permanent fixture in our community!

Photos courtesy of Martina Juvera-Paul and the Lindgren Childcare Center group.
Photos courtesy of Martina Juvera-Paul and the Lindgren Childcare Center group.

Tomoko Rebeck – District 742 ECFE Educator

Every single family in my ECFE classes had a fantastic time at the Curious George exhibit!  They enjoyed the exhibit so much because it was engaging and provided a special play opportunity that they don’t get to experience at home nor classrooms.  

I am excited about the future children’s museum because GRCM has a lot to offer! My ECFE families loved having the children’s museum in town instead of driving a long distance with young children. I strongly believe that GRCM will support Central Minnesota children and families by offering what they need to enhance their relationships and bring them all together as a community through play and exploration! I just wanted to thank GRCM for having our ECFE classes at the Curious George exhibit. All my families had a fantastic time! What a great way to spend a parent-child time! I also thought it was a great way to raise awareness of GRCM and hopefully tie in to the fundraising somehow.

Community Partnership in Action

SCSU Students Support Great River Children’s Museum’s Curious George Exhibit by Creating Language and Literacy Extension Activities

By Janet Tilstra, Associate Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders, St Cloud State University

It’s been an exciting spring semester! Students studying language development and disorders worked with Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM) to create activity packets to extend the children’s museum’s traveling Curious George exhibit.  

This project is a model of community engagement, where SCSU students partner with a community organization to apply their newly acquired knowledge and serve a community need. The project involved several steps threaded throughout the semester: 

Step one: Meet our community partner.
Cassie Miles, Great River Children’s Museum’s Executive Director, visited our class Zoom room in early February to talk about the children’s museum and the Curious George traveling exhibit on loan from the Minnesota Children’s Museum. She shared her vision for the project and other activity examples from other GRCM activities. 

Step two: Develop language/literacy activity modules.
For their assignment, students were asked to develop an extension activity for the Curious George exhibit focusing on one specific area of language development. Activities were designed to be fun, build language and literacy skills, use the Curious George theme, and be appropriate for 2- to 6-year-olds. 

Students were asked to keep materials simple and culturally sensitive to match a wide range of families and care settings. 

Project topics included: 

  • Vocabulary building (e.g. nouns, concept words, action words); 
  • Social/pragmatic use of language (e.g. labeling emotions, taking turns); 
  • Language structure (e.g. past, present, future tense or singular vs. plural words); 
  • Language letters and sounds (e.g. rhyming words, counting syllables, matching letters/sounds) 
  • Narrative language structure (e.g. stories include characters, setting, problem, actions, ending). 

Step three: Pitch ideas to the community partner.
Cassie returned to our Zoom classroom mid-March to hear students pitches and see activity demonstrations. There were many excellent ideas. From all the pitches, three group’s ideas were selected to be refined and used in Great River Children’s Museum’s preview space and shared online. 

Step four: Refine the ideas to match needs of the community partner.
In April, the selected groups refined their ideas into deliverable instructions and materials for Curious George extension activities. Other students created instructional videos of how to do each activity. The rest of the class designed a caregiver handout with ideas for promoting children’s language and literacy in everyday life.

Step five: On-campus scholarly presentations.
In late April, all student groups presented as part of SCSU Husky Showcase, an annual event that celebrates University and community research, creative works and scholarship across all disciplines at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Our students presented as examples of community engagement and applied learning. 

Step six: Visiting the Curious George exhibit!
A final highlight to our semester will be visiting the exhibit in person. It will be exciting to see the full scale of the exhibit and how our classroom contributions support the children’s museum. 

Thank you Cassie Miles & Great River Children’s Museum for partnering! 

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.”

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.

United Way Day of Caring

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!

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! 

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.