Great River Children’s Museum

by | Sep 20, 2022 | Stories | 0 comments

If you’ve been downtown St. Cloud over the last year or two, you may have noticed that what used to be Liberty Bank’s headquarters is now the home of the Great River Children’s Museum. Though not open to the public just yet, the museum is well on its way to making a home in our community. Executive Director Cassie Miles indulged us with background, current status, and future prospects for the museum…

Great River Children’s Museum (“GRCM”) is an emerging children’s museum, a category for museums like ours that are working to open doors, and building up programming and services as we go.” Registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2012, the museum has been a dream of Dr. Glen Palm for many years. Glen and his partner Jane gathered a few of their closest friends around their dining room table and began to lay out plans that would ultimately lead to the creation of a space where all children and their caring adults can explore, learn, and discover through the power of play.

Glen has worked in early childhood his entire career – publishing books, teaching courses, launching father’s groups, and chairing the Child and Family Studies Department at SCSU. Glen and Jane raised their children in St. Cloud and felt all along that the resources and unique experiences that children’s museums offer were missing. Children’s museums are known as a “Third Place” – a space that is not home (‘first place’) or school/work (‘second place’) where ideas are exchanged, relationships are built, and simple joys can be experienced without all of the stressors that everyday life can bring.

Great River Children's Museum, Cassie Miles“A lot has happened since those initial dining room table discussions. Glen has visited over 30 children’s museums throughout the nation and abroad. A board of directors was formed composed of health professionals, early childhood and parent educators, business owners, and community advocates. In 2018 Liberty Bank MN donated their building in downtown St. Cloud to the project and in 2019 grant funds were secured to create an overarching museum strategy guide. I was hired as Executive Director in 2020 to guide the project forward through a capital campaign and, ultimately, toward opening the doors of an incredible community asset that will exist for generations of kids and families to enjoy.”

At their core, children’s museums across the state share similar missions – to promote learning and development through multilayered play experiences. “GRCM stands apart from other children’s museums in a number of ways, including 1) we are trying to build the 2nd largest children’s museum in the state; 2) we have a strong focus on infant, toddler, and pre-k development; 3) we are building partnerships with other youth and family serving nonprofit organizations, childcare centers, and ECFE programs to promote consensus building and find efficiencies in serving our shared community, 4) we’re committed to working with and for area institutes of higher learning, future educators, and businesses as they endeavor to introduce more play into classrooms and places of work. I also want to highlight that GRCM values play at all ages. While children ages 0 to 10 are the most engaged by exhibits, we’re building out programming, camps, and field trips that will extend the ‘life’ of museum goers into the early teen years.”

GRCM will support the communities of Central Minnesota in a plethora of ways and alongside many partner organizations. “Currently we’re partnered with Great River Regional Library to provide pop-up exhibit experiences at all of the 32 library locations throughout the regional library network. Over the course of about 18 months, pop-up exhibit experiences will travel out to local libraries so that all of our Central Minnesota friends and neighbors can enjoy a small glimpse into the future fun that GRCM has to offer.”

“We also partner with the Stearns History Museum through a shared employee (not to mention that Carie Essig, SHM’s ED, is a huge advocate and incredible volunteer for GRCM). Both Carie and I are seeing the benefit of sharing a full-time employee at our museums. We hope to continue to learn from this experience and expand this employee-sharing effort through other nonprofits, and perhaps even for-profit businesses. Sharing resources helps all of us do better.”

In addition to the examples above, GRCM will continue to build and expand upon partnerships with childcare centers, ECFE programs, schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, Promise Neighborhood, Too Much Talent, Scouts of America, county and state service providers, and area businesses in order to bring the best that play has to offer to ALL children.

Upon completion, GRCM will be a 31,000+ sq ft facility that weaves together play, culture, and community. “The investment to make this vision a reality is large, but it is outweighed by the impact on our region. Support of more than $7MM has already been pledged by generous business owners and community leaders. In addition, a fund worth over $1MM has been established that will provide annual support to the museum and help to ensure access for all. We’re more than halfway to our fundraising goal for the project and are excited to partner with many more community leaders to get us to the point where we can greet smiling faces as they walk (excitedly!) through our front doors.

Great River Children’s Museum’s plans include 8 mainstay exhibit areas, temporary exhibit gallery, program room with teaching kitchen, community room, retail store, dining/seating area, and rooftop deck. Donations and pledges to the museum’s capital campaign go directly toward the construction of the facility and fabrication of all of the exhibit components that will fill the space with creativity and inspire joy. Sponsorship options are available and supporters will be recognized in a variety of (fun) ways.

Great River Children's Museum St Cloud

GRCM anticipates welcoming over 125,000 visitors through its doors annually and is already seeing local businesses and developers take note. “When young families have amenities and services available to them, they will set roots and build lives here. They will secure and remain loyal to employment in the area and they will patronize local businesses. Data shows that tourists with children plan trips around destinations that have offerings for their kids. As people travel “up north” to cabins and lakes they will look for places to have unique experiences along the way. Our schools will benefit, local businesses will benefit, but more importantly, the quality of life in our region will directly benefit from the addition of a children’s museum.”

And the fun has already begun. “We’ve piloted summer camp programs and hosted field trip groups of preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders. We’ve deconstructed/recycled/rehomed over 50,000 lbs of building materials and are learning the history of the buildings that we’re remodeling. We’ve transformed exhibit concepts into designs that will become prototypes, and made connections with communities that will last a lifetime and beyond. Every day is a step in the right direction.”

A large part of the magic of Great River Children’s Museum won’t be front and center during open hours. “Through partnerships with other youth and family serving organizations, and with funding support from grants, donations, and endowed funds, GRCM will break down barriers and provide dynamic learning experiences for children and families of all backgrounds. During non-public hours, GRCM will be a space for parents to learn how to safely and successfully navigate an outing with their child. A space where children with sensory sensitivities or unique needs can enjoy unencumbered play. It will be a place where the characteristics and attributes that make every child unique in their own right can be celebrated. Don’t underestimate what stressors play can help a child cope with, the self-confidence it can affirm, or what it will inspire.”

“When I first started in my role with GRCM, I immediately noticed that everyone I met would ask me “how can I help?” How fantastic is that? The communities of Greater St. Cloud and Central Minnesota are encouraging this project by valuing the potential of all children and uplifting the bonds of families. And they can continue to support GRCM by following our progress online and through social media, and by sharing stories of how play has influenced their own lives.”

Those interested in sponsorship, making a donation, or pledging support can reach out to Cassie directly at cassie.miles@greatrivercm.org or 320-200-4110 ext 10 or by visiting the website at www.greatrivercm.org. In addition to donating, Great River Children’s Museum benefits greatly from energetic community advocates who are ready to share this story with everyone they know.

#StCloudShines

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