Not your everyday PLAY: Our adventures at ACM and AAM

Last week, museum staff ventured out to attend the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conferences as a way to connect with other museums and gain more insight about the ever-changing industry.

Program and Outreach Manager, Kylie headed off to St. Louis, Missouri for InterActivity 2022 ACM annual conference. This year’s theme, PLAY The Long Game, explored how to adjust to today’s dynamics, while also preparing for the future of serving the many generations of children and families ahead. It was held at the St. Louis Children’s Museum, also known as “The Magic House.” The conference included an emerging museums track, which was especially beneficial to us in our pre-construction state.

Kylie teamed up with Exhibit Designer, Betsy Loring, of expLoring exhibits & engagement and Game and Experience Designer, Greg Trefry, of Gigantic Mechanic to host a session on Role Play Games (RPG) in museum settings and how it can help to spark children’s creativity and encourage collaboration. Kylie shared ideas around how RPGs can expand programming for older children (and even adults!) in a children’s museum setting. Since there are many other benefits to RPGs like imaginative learning and communication skills, they can be adjusted to use for a variety of audiences. 

Executive Director, Cassie and Social Media Coordinator, Jessica attended the AAM annual MuseumExpo conference held in Boston this year. The focus was on organizational culture, innovation, museums in society, and financial wellness. Much like ACM, this convention is filled with museum professionals who have created solutions for some of the most challenging behind the scenes and public facing issues we face everyday on a much broader scale. 

Our very first session was held at the Boston Children’s Museum where we were tasked with designing a prototype exhibit themed around music and culture. The goal was to encourage connection and self-expression while keeping inclusion and accessibility at the forefront. This session was followed by some ‘research’ (aka playing) at the children’s museum and was a great way to start off the weekend! 

We were thrilled to attend an in-person (finally!) conference this year to hear stories and experiences from other museums. Here’s to a great year ahead and looking forward to attending, and maybe even presenting, again next year!

A Great (River!) Partnership

Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library share a common goal to spark curiosity and learning while encouraging the exploration of new ideas.

Over the next year, Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library are proud to be bringing the communities of Central Minnesota a small glimpse of the future of Great River Children’s Museum (“GRCM”) through Pop-up Exhibit Experiences hosted by libraries around the region! This is the perfect opportunity to share the potential of future museum exhibits, programming, and experiences with those we look forward to serving in our region.

The library’s goal to have a patron-centered organization is an excellent fit with the museum’s plan to bring play and exploration to Central Minnesota’s children and families. 

“The library has specific goals to try new ideas, innovate, and create partnerships that promote libraries and their services, so this feels like a natural extension of key parts of our goals,” says GRRL’s Beth Stolpman.

Great River Children’s Museum aspires to be a place where there is something for everyone and all are welcome, much like Great River Regional Library. Our goal is to bring awareness to those in our region who may not know we are in development. Library patrons outside of the St. Cloud metro area will get a sneak peek of what the future holds for Great River Children’s Museum through displays and exhibit related programming in the familiarity of their local library.

GRRL Librarian Jade Lauber, said, “We are so excited to have the opportunity to have the pop-up exhibits from Great River Children’s Museum! These exhibits will give our patrons the chance to experience what the museum has to offer, and will be an excellent addition to our summer programming. This year, we have a lot of outdoor, nature, and camping activities tying into our annual Summer Reading Program, ‘Read Beyond the Beaten Path.’ We can’t wait to see how well the museum’s Pop-up Exhibit Experiences compliment our existing library resources and programs, and how our patrons will interact with the exhibits!”

Cohort 1 of the Pop-up Exhibit Experiences begin Sunday, May 1 2022 at these Great River Regional Library locations: Annandale, Becker, Clearwater, Paynesville, Pierz, Richmond, and Swanville.

GRCM will also be taking part in this years Llama Llama Pajama Party at the St. Cloud Great River Regional Library on May 10th from 5-7pm. Come by to chat with us and enjoy an activity as well as a coloring contest, storytime, prizes, and more provided by United Way of Central Minnesota, GRRL, and others.

We look forward to connecting with the patrons of Great River Regional Library and to all future partnership opportunities that will support children, their families, and their love of learning through play!

Making room for the museum

The downtown St. Cloud building that is the future home of the Great River Children’s Museum has undergone dramatic changes over the past 4 months. Salvagers and volunteers  have carefully removed thousands of pounds of materials for reuse and recycling in preparation for a demolition team to begin the transformation of the building in order to construct the museum.

The deconstruction process was coordinated by David Mohs, the lead facilities volunteer. He describes the process he created that led to 25 tons of materials and fixtures being removed from the building for reuse or recycling.

First, an online database of building fixtures including photographs was created. This inventory was then shared with GRCM representatives, who claimed items for GRCM’s preservation and for personal use. Technicians and volunteers who toured or had worked in the buildings were also invited to claim items. Nonprofit organizations and government agencies were invited to review the inventory through an announcement via the Saint Cloud Area Human Services Council. Select items were marketed on Freecycle and the Minnesota Materials Exchange. Eventually, people who participated in the salvage project were encouraged to invite others. Word of mouth was the most successful method of finding salvagers.

All materials were available for free, with a few exceptions. For example,  salvagers could not take copper and other valuable metals unless they paid more than the recycling value. Salvagers provided their own labor and tools to reclaim the desired materials. Each was required to sign a liability waiver covering injury, damage, and regulatory responsibility. The serious salvagers typically fell into one or more of these categories: (a) persons employed in facilities management, (b) nonprofits/governments with a dedicated facilities staff, or (c) people with farming backgrounds.

Over 50 individuals and groups participated in this process. Some examples of salvaged materials and salvagers who participated included.  A school that claimed 800 pounds of shelving and building materials for theatrical sets. A government entity claimed 1400 pounds of cabinets and counters used by their guests. A non-profit that serves persons with disabilities claimed over 1,700 pounds of materials to be used for various improvements. A farm family claimed 3,000 pounds of lumber and ceiling tiles to remodel a barn.

In addition to the materials that were salvaged for reuse, there were also materials that were dismantled and collected for recycling by 10-15 GRCM volunteers.  These materials were taken to the local recycling business and brought in $4-5,000 to the organization.

There were a variety of materials that were salvaged or recycled including: wood products, glass, metal, stone and other.  The graph below shows categories of materials by weight.

This deconstruction process had multiple benefits for GRCM, the community and our collective environment.  The museum benefited by reducing the costs of demolition through saving time and effort on the part of the demolition crew who could do their work more efficiently and with less having to be taken away.  In addition, recycling metals that provided some additional income. The benefits to the community were that individuals, non-profits, schools and churches were able to find fixtures and materials that they could use by reclaiming them with their labor.  There were over 25 tons of materials removed from the building that did not end up in a landfill that benefits us all.

A big thanks to 50+ salvagers and volunteers who participated in the deconstruction process that has supported GRCM to move to focusing on the construction of a children’s museum.  A special thanks to David Mohs who led this deconstruction project from building a database of materials to contacting salvagers and spending countless hours preparing the building, coordinating volunteers, and assisting salvagers.

Connecting with Children’s Museums in Greater Minnesota

During 2021, we focused on building relationships and partnerships that will strengthen our ability to serve Central Minnesota families when our doors open. Establishing collaborative relationships with children’s museums across the state was a top priority and an effective way to spread our mission beyond our region.

Thus, the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition was formed. We are joined by 7 other children’s museums across Minnesota to make a difference in the lives of children and their caring adults throughout the entire state. 

From left: Peter Olson (WonderTrek Children’s Museum), Greg Reigstad (Great River Children’s Museum), Janie Heitz (Children’s Discovery Museum), and Katie Ganoe (Otter Cove Children’s Museum)

Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition members will serve nearly 500,000 guests annually, capturing visitors from nearly 100% of the state’s 87 counties. The coalition includes Otter Cove Children’s Museum, the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, Duluth Children’s Museum, Spark Children’s Museum, and more. We aim to focus on the areas surrounding the Twin Cities that may not receive as much support.

Our goal is to raise the voice of children’s museums to:

  • Reveal the impact children’s museums have on early childhood development
  • Strengthen bonds between children, their caring adults, and our shared communities
  • Increase cross-cultural competency through early exposure to diverse ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds
  • Drive economic development and improve quality of life of families in the regions we serve
  • Bridge the gap in funding for children’s museums in greater Minnesota
  • Drive tourism to Greater Minnesota

Collectively, the coalition has submitted a bill requesting $36M in state funds towards capital projects underway at children’s museums throughout greater Minnesota. Many of the museums will use this funding for building and exhibit design, renovations and construction in order to create and expand our abilities to spark joy and enhance learning through play! A substantial economic return of 5x the investment will be experienced through direct, indirect, and induced spending and job creation.

For more information, please visit the respective organization’s website. Click here to find them!

GRCM Executive Director featured on Minnesota Live!

In October, our Executive Director, Cassie Miles, was able to share Central Minnesota’s vision for the creation of the 2nd largest children’s museum in the state with the Twin Cities market on Minnesota Live with KSTP-TV. This has been our biggest audience yet!

As Great River Children’s Museum continues to design a space that will bring play filled learning opportunities to children and their families for generations to come, we’re seeking corporate and family gifts to help us reach the first $8 million in our $12 million capital campaign. We can’t wait to start knocking down walls and swinging sledgehammers!

Will your employer be the next Great River Children’s Museum supporter? Help Help us Open Doors and Open Worlds of exploration and delight for families in our region by spreading the word and talking to your employer today!

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

And we’re rolling, rolling with the river

Kiddos will set a course for adventure as they head downstream on the Great River. This exhibit celebrates and teaches about the importance of water as habitat, a means of transportation for commerce as well as a sacred resource and lifeline for our communities.

On Oct. 9, 2021, Great River Children’s Museum board members and committee volunteers were wowed with the second round of design schematics for the museum’s core exhibits. At the Great River, museum visitors will hear and read stories about relationships with the river throughout history.

A massive water table flows with ample space for boat races, movement of goods, building locks, dams and more.
Humans aren’t the only ones who live along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, and families can get “deep into the weeds” to learn more about critical habitats and the critters who call the river home. With rapids, beaver dams and a water wheel, rest assured, kiddos will get wet! And there’s so much fun in that!

Great River Children’s Museum would like to thank Barbara and Rollie Anderson for sponsoring this exhibit.

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To learn more about sponsorship or corporate partnerships, please contact Executive Director
Cassie Miles at Cassie.Miles@greatrivercm.org

Forecast: Cloudy with a chance of awesome

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Kids will soon have their head in the clouds (hands, feet and whole self, too!).

Higher and higher, kiddos will climb above cityscapes and rivers in Climber to the Clouds, an exhibit sponsored by Coborn Family Foundation.

On Oct. 9, 2021, Great River Children’s Museum board members and committee volunteers were wowed with the second round of design schematics for the museum’s core exhibits. 

Climber to the Clouds will be the heart of the museum, awing museum visitors as they enter the spectacular atrium. 

Once museum visitors pass through the ticketing area, the museum space opens up to reveal the towering, immersive exhibit.

Scattered throughout Climber are physical play features to scurry over, under and around. Cranks and buttons invite explorers to interact to learn about weather systems and even create their own rain, thunder, wind, and rainbows. 

Passersby also will be captivated by the illuminated, three-story, cloud-filled sky visible from outside.

Great River Children’s Museum would like to thank Coborn Family Foundation for sponsoring this exhibit.

To learn more about sponsorship or corporate partnerships, please contact Executive Director Cassie Miles at Cassie.Miles@greatrivercm.org

$1 million Anderson gift drives Great River Children’s Museum closer to Opening Doors and Opening Worlds

Sponsorship of river exhibit keeps museum plans flowing

St. CLOUD – Barbara and Rollie Anderson have announced a personal $1 million dollar pledge to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the “Great River” exhibit. 

“We’ve always said family is the most important thing,” Rollie explained. “Great River Children’s Museum will be a welcome addition to Central Minnesota as a space for families to explore, discover and learn together, and we’re proud to be a part of its development.”

The Andersons have a deep history of strengthening families in our region through their work with Early Childhood Family Education, service, community engagement, and history of generosity with Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, CentraCare, and Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, to name a few.

Sponsorship of the “Great River” exhibit is particularly meaningful. Museum goers will learn about the importance of water as habitat, a means of transportation for commerce as well as a lifeline for communities. For Barbara and Rollie, their family-owned company, Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), played a key role helping the millions of Puerto Rico residents who were devastated following Hurricane Maria in 2017. ATS has been doing business in Puerto Rico since 1995 and helped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with generators and pumps to save a dam from breaking, the U.S. Coast Guard with providing potable water to residents, and relief agencies with delivery of other cargo, including shower trailers, laundry trailers, traffic lights, generators, fuel, 28,000 telephone and utility poles, 60,000 miles of cable, transformers, bucket trucks, portable cellular towers, and the list goes on.

“We’re honored to deepen the sense of community in our region by sharing our wonderful heritage and history of life along the river with families,” Barbara said. “Great River Children’s Museum will deliver on the importance of children having an opportunity for hands-on learning experiences.” 

GRCM currently is in the fund-raising phase of museum development. At the same time, the organization is working with three professional exhibit design firms to finalize core museum exhibits. 

The Andersons join the Coborn Family Foundation as the museum’s first two exhibit sponsors.

“We are at an exhilarating point in our fund raising and development,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “Each gift brings us one step closer to opening our doors.”

About Great River Children’s Museum

Great River Children’s Museum is an emerging museum that will reside in downtown St. Cloud, thanks to Liberty Bank’s $1.4 million donation of its building. 

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 currently is 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

Experimenting with Imaginative Play at Camp Beyond

By Kylie Conover, Program & Outreach Manager

As the museum begins to take shape through the exhibit design process, so too are the programming components of the museum.

Museums are so much more than just the building and the exhibits themselves. Great River Children’s Museum plans on having additional, hands-on learning experiences including field trips and summer camps. 

At the beginning of August I was able to run a pilot summer camp program. I named this experiment Camp Beyond, because what I wanted was us to think past what traditional summer camps at museums often look like. I combined three different elements together for the curriculum of Camp Beyond; practicing social emotional learning skills, hands-ons imaginative play, and TableTop Role Playing Games.

What resulted was a week of absolute joy as I watched a group of campers work together through a series of challenges that culminated in overcoming a challenge and a pizza party at the park!

Over the course of the week GRCM hosted 10 Adventurers (campers), they were broken into groups of five and were led through various activities by their Adventure Guides (camp staff). The various activities included building a world narrative together, making a character and costume, building a cardboard fort, and lastly defeating the bad guy plaguing their world. 

According to our surveys, the day our adventurers got to create their hero personas was a huge highlight for them. Not only did they create their character, they were given the freedom to use cardboard, glue, fabric, and other materials to make a costume to become that character. To wrap up that day each camper got to use a program which allowed for them to create a 3-D model of their character which then got printed on our 3-D printer. 

A key part of Camp Beyond was providing a sense of community and agency among the Adventurers. At the beginning of the week we presented an open door policy, simply stated: If you need to take a moment (or many moments) away from the group you could. There was a space provided with a set of alternative activities that allowed for the camper to take time away if they needed it. This open door policy is a part of a toolkit that allows for each camper to have more agency throughout the programming. 

Ultimately, Camp Beyond was received favorably with requests from campers if they can come back and continue to be involved. I certainly can’t thank my adventurers and their adults more than I already have because they took a chance on a new camp at a not yet open museum.

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.