Guest Opinion: Why children's museums are essential to our greater Minnesota communities
Join us by contacting your legislators today and encouraging support of children’s museums and the families they serve.
For some of us, the giddy excitement of a school field trip to the museum is a treasured memory. We remember what it was like to walk underneath towering dinosaur skeletons, to discover what electrical currents look like, to build teetering contraptions with our hands, and to climb through mazes of tunnels and ladders. We were able to carry forward the feelings of wondrous inner-child awe because of the opportunities we were provided as children. Without a doubt, learning through multi-sensory play-filled experiences is long lasting, essential to learning and health development, and should be afforded for every child. That is where children’s museums come in.
Children’s museums across Minnesota exist because the power of play is invaluable when it comes to early childhood learning and brain development. Children’s museums understand that play, like a workout for the brain, builds and strengthens the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that acts as the problem solver, creator, social-emotional behavior moderator, and plan-maker. The evidence continues to grow that play is the best way for children to learn and flourish, which is why every region of Minnesota has its own children’s museum or is working to establish one right now.
Children’s museums are an essential part of Minnesota’s educational and economic ecosystems. Minnesota is home to 12 children’s museums, ranging in size and scope, 10 of which are spread throughout greater Minnesota. Children’s museums are some of the only spaces where children and families in greater Minnesota have access to quality, informal learning through play. The benefits of these museums are huge. Not only do they provide essential learning spaces, cross-cultural connections, and important foundational experiences for our youngest learners, they also bring great economic value to each region through job creation, tourism, and improved liveability. According to the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 Report, museums and other nonprofit cultural organizations have a return of more than $5 in tax revenue for every $1 they receive in funding from all levels of government. This translates to over 726,000 American jobs and an annual generation of $50 billion in the U.S. economy, based on AAM’s Museums as Economic Engines National Report.
In the Brainerd area, WonderTrek Children’s Museum was just an idea seven years ago. Steps continue to be taken to achieve the final objective of building the museum! Minnesota Legacy Funding has provided program monies for offsite and playlab open houses in the five county region. A testament to the critical importance of the children’s museum is the 7,000 children who have already participated in WonderTrek programs. The museum has partnered with school districts, ECFE, Minnesota Family Services, HomeSchool organizations, camps and other events. Wondertrek programs provide an environment for child led learning, a critical component of early childhood education.
The economic impact of the new museum is extensive. The square footage of the proposed facility is 27,000 square feet. The expected annual visitation number is 75,000. According to Explore Minnesota, the average museum visitor from out of town will spend $38 beyond the cost of admission in nearby restaurants and shops when visiting WonderTrek. WonderTrek will generate an $2,846,514 total economic impact according to Americans for the Arts Prosperity 5 Calculator.
Presently a site has been secured for WonderTrek Children’s Museum in Baxter. Key stakeholders have committed over $200,000 to jumpstart fundraising efforts.
Even as critical community assets, children’s museums across greater Minnesota face deep inequities and funding barriers each year. Some children’s museums receive automatic funding, while others have to reapply every time funding is reappropriated. Without a streamlined and equitable funding process, some of our children’s museums are required to expend precious resources on grant applications and lobbying while they should be focused on the needs of their evolving communities, building new spaces to meet increasing demand, completing needed repairs on aging facilities, and creating new exhibits to motivate learning.
That is why 10 children’s museums across the state have come together to create awareness of the important work of children’s museums and their statewide impact, in addition to advocating for fair and equitable state funding across all Minnesota’s children’s museums. With a collective voice, the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum coalition plays an important role in encouraging the Legislature and governor to remember Greater Minnesota children’s museums, and the families they serve, when directing the state’s surplus. With state support, Greater Minnesota children’s museums will serve more than 700,000 guests annually, welcoming visitors from all of Minnesota’s 87 counties, and many states and countries. To ensure children’s museum funding equitably benefits children across the state, the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum coalition has proposed the following for the 2023 legislative session:
- Capital investments — One-time investment of $31 million of budget surplus money in 10 children’s museums across the state.
- Department of Education — Extend already existing $50,000 base funding to all children’s museums across the state, currently only reaching select children’s museums.
- Legacy Fund — Provide equitable funding with $150,000 equally directed to each children’s museum to ensure Art, Culture, and Heritage funds benefit Minnesota children more fairly.
No matter where you live in Minnesota, play is powerful. Play is how we relate to the world and to each other and, as humans, we are wired to learn most naturally through playful exploration. Children’s museums support foundational development, human connection, and increase cross cultural competency and social awareness, in a unique and profound way -- by helping children make sense of the world and think critically through interactive, hands-on, multi-sensory learning experiences. At children’s museums, the next generation learns how to get along, work together, and how to solve problems cooperatively. Equitably funding Minnesota’s children’s museums is a direct investment in our shared future and prosperity.
Members of the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition are WonderTrek Children’s Museum in Baxter-Brainerd, The Works Museum in the Twin Cities, The Children’s Discovery Center in Breckenridge, Duluth Children’s Museum, Otter Cove Children’s Museum in Fergus Falls, Judy Garland & Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids, Wheel and Cog Children’s Museum in Hutchinson, Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato, Great River Children’s Museum in St. Cloud and The Village in Willmar.