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.”
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.
GRCM fund request passed House vote; awaiting Senate vote
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.”
“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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
“Karel and I have enjoyed time with our 2-1/2 year old granddaughter, Greta, at the MinnesotaChildren’s Museum. During her first visit she was hesitant and mostly liked watching otherchildren play. On later visits, she would dash off to the areas she liked and would becometotally 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.
“I am excited with the progress Great River Children’s Museum has made. In the future I lookforward to the same when the museum is open and we can bring our granddaughter to enjoy the space.”
Don Helgeson and Sue Shepard have announced a leadership gift to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the Temporary Gallery. A space for traveling exhibits, expanded programming, and innumerable projects and works of art from around Central Minnesota to be shared!
The Gallery is an important feature of the future children’s museum. It is especially important to Don and Sue because, like the building that Great River Children’s Museum resides in, it will always be changing and evolving into something different. Our building in downtown St. Cloud has been everything from a chicken hatchery to an athletic center. The one constant has been the Helgeson family’s connection to this space.
The building began as Jack Frost Hatchery and Liberty Loan and Thrift founded in 1934 by Don’s father, Elmer “Mike” Helgeson. Mike wanted to help the farmers in the area by creating finance solutions. This would allow farmers to purchase chicks on installment payment plans. At the time it was a revolutionary way of doing business and proved to be very successful. By 1939, Liberty Loan and Thrift expanded to begin financing cars and farm machinery.
Before his graduation in 1950 from what was then known as St. Cloud State Teachers College, Don decided that he would like to take over his father’s hatchery. He switched his focus and completed courses relating to farming and animals, specifically poultry.
Don became a manager at the hatchery and was given opportunities to make important decisions. It was upon his suggestion that his father bought a farm near Mille Lacs Lake to start breeding chickens, feeding their own supply line. By the 1970’s, Don and his brother Jerry were partners and co-owners of the hatchery and loan business and their hard work saw the business evolve and the facility become a space used for a multitude of purposes.
In 1993 Don’s son, Michael (“Mike”) Helgeson, became CEO of the family business. In 2018 Liberty Bank moved to a new location and donated their downtown headquarters to the Great River Children’s Museum project for the benefit of the entire Central Minnesota community. Mike and his wife Karel Helgeson have served, and do serve, on the Board and Committees of Great River Children’s Museum and so it goes that the building remains a part of the wonderful Helgeson family legacy.
“The Liberty building represents our family’s legacy and passions intersecting: the chicken business, banking business, appreciation and support for the arts, and giving back to the community.” -Don Helgeson in his book Gratitude.
We are incredibly grateful and excited that Don and Sue have chosen to play such an instrumental role in the transformation of our beautiful 111 7th Ave S. structure!