story and photos by Kim Souza
Northwest Arkansas continues to be a great place to live, according to civic leader Dick Trammel, who said Thursday, “It’s almost like every day is Christmas.”
That was the shared sentiment by several dozen business and civic leaders who gathered on the Bentonville Square Thursday afternoon (June 13) to celebrate the announcement of a 44,500 square-foot children’s discovery center that will sit adjacent to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
“Amazeum”, will be an “interactive discovery center” where kids can explore things like “how to make a rainbow, how big of a bubble can you blow or why does my tummy rumble,” said Sam Dean, the Amazeum’s director who was introduced at the event. Dean said on the backside of those questions children can unlock deep level learning, which is what the Amazeum is all about.
The more than seven years of planning and fundraising produced a 1-to-1 matching donation of $10 million from the Walton Family Foundation. Financial support and other commitments were made by former Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and his wife Linda, The Hershey Company, General Mills, Nickelodeon, Johnelle Hunt and the Walker Family Foundation.
The center is billed as "Amazeum: presented by the Lee and Linda Scott Family." Lee Scott said he was humbled to be part something that will help enrich lives in this community for generations to come.
“We have a history here since 1979 and I think back to that time when we worried about educational levels … and to have lived through the amazing changes we have seen through the years and then see today what great educational programs and facilities our kids have. It’s exciting to be able to add this next layer on top of that,” Scott said.
Being next to Crystal Bridges is an honor, he said, as more than 900,000 patrons have visited that “spectacular amenity.”
Scott thanked the Walton Family Foundation for the land and $10 million matching grant made to kick-start the fundraising campaign.
He told the crowd he remembered the first day he met Alice Walton. He was fresh on the job as assistant manager of Wal-Mart’s transportation department. Alice came into his office and said, “Lee, I have a flat tire on my horse trailer and my daddy said you might change it for me.” Then she wanted to make sure we sent him a bill so he could pay for it, Scott added.
“To think Linda and I could be involved in something like the Amazeum, that will sit at the top of the hill from the foremost American Art Museum in the world, it’s incredibly personal to us,” Scott said.
Group organizers say it’s been a labor of love since 2006, when a group of visionary parents, business leaders and educators recognized the need for a museum that would amaze children of all ages and their families while enhancing the quality of life throughout the region. Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin said this was the idea of one person and quickly became the collaboration of many.
“It’s the way things get done around here from Beaver Lake to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport this community works together.” McCaslin said.
The Amazeum is an educational facility, but Mike Harvey, chief operating officer with Northwest Arkansas Council, said there are huge economic benefits to investments like this one.
“Quality of life matters in today’s world, and I continually hear from our region’s employers how important that is when recruiting and retaining top talent for their businesses. The talented have options and they will often chose to go where they can make a life, while also making a living.” Harvey said.
For businesses and organizations in the region, the Amazeum will also boast meeting spaces, creating a new venue for corporate retreats to inspire creativity and teamwork.
“I am excited about the dynamic contribution the Amazeum will make to the Northwest Arkansas Region. The Amazeum will undoubtedly be a star attraction among the region’s educational and entertainment venues” stated David Gearhart, Chancellor, University of Arkansas and member of the Governance Board.
The Amazeum’s design and exhibits are being created to appeal to all ages with hands-on activities that will entertain the entire family. The Amazeum’s interactive exhibits will pay tribute to the land, industries and people that built the Arkansas culture and sustain it today. Exhibits include a Tinkering Studio, water area, climbable tree canopy and a lab.
The facility will also include an acre of outdoor space for year-long learning activities and to provide a backdrop for experiments and experiences inspired by the seasons.