story and photos by Kim Souza
More than a hundred business professionals and child learning advocates huddled Wednesday morning (April 16) during a blustery construction kickoff for the $28.5 million Amazeum in Bentonville. Sam Dean, executive director for the Amazeum, said the project is taking shape and the one-of-a-kind children’s museum is slated to open in the back half of 2015.
He said the vision of Linda and Lee Scott and their family has taken wings with the help of many core sponsors and benefactors – from the Walton Family’s gift of land for the 44,000-square-foot site, to the Walmart Foundation challenge grant early in the planning stages. Lee Scott is a former CEO of Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores.
The capital campaign to raise $28.5 million has come together fairly quickly following the Scott family gift as presenting sponsors. The Walton Family and Walmart Stores Foundations, General Mills, The Hershey Company, Nickelodeon, the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Trust and Johnelle Hunt. Doug and Shelley McMillon – Doug now serves as the Wal-Mart CEO – were the latest major donors to this project, helping to narrow the gap.
The project has raised $22.5 million, putting the project within $6 million of the targeted goal. This includes a $4.5 million endowment used to defray operating costs in the early years of the museum so that more of the revenue can be directed toward exhibits, according to Molly Rawn, spokeswoman for the Amazeum fundraising campaign.
Reb Haizlip, architect for the project, said the museum and children’s learning center will offer kids a glimpse at what it was like growing up in the Ozarks years ago and it will also feature exhibits linked to the economic engines that have fueled region’s growth over the years. He’s been part of the project since 2007 and said the excitement and contributions around the Amazeum are without compare to any other project he’s overseen.
Dean said Wal-Mart has its stamp all over the project and there will be a mini Neighborhood Market featured inside the Amazeum for commerce and cooking play. He said Walmart’s distribution supply chain also will be featured in the center as kids will be able to see and learn logistics with a twist. The General Mills Lift, Load and Haul exhibit will feature kinetic activity focused on getting things from one place to another.
Linda and Lee Scott’s oldest granddaughter, Sophia Scott, read comments from her grandfather, who was unable to attend the groundbreaking.
“As you can see, our location is in the heart of Bentonville and the cultural growth that is taking off here,” Sophia said. “The Amazeum will be situated on this land donated by the Walton Family Foundation in front of the entrance to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. We are incredibly excited about the synergies that will occur between these two entities and are extremely grateful to the Walton Family for this gift. The Amazeum will provide families with another opportunity to play, learn and grow together.”
Dean said while the the event was technically dubbed a groundbreaking, dirt work began in February, concrete will be poured in a few days, and steel walls should be visible next month. While the construction is ramping up, efforts also are focused on raising the rest of the needed funds to pay for the facility
“I would like to thank our most recent donors, Doug and Shelley McMillon, for their generous support. We are incredibly grateful to all of our donors. We have a goal of $28.5 million, and we’re not there yet, but we know with the help of all the many philanthropic companies and giving individuals in this community that we will get there soon,” Dean said.
The Amazeum will feature interactive space that will bring learning to life. Children and adults of all ages will be able to satisfy their curiosity and discover new things through hands-on activities and exhibits. Exhibitions like the tinkering studio, a climbable tree canopy and indoor caves will allow visitors to explore on their own terms and with their own imagination. Additional exhibitions, such as an art studio and cabin experience, will help tell the story of the area’s Ozark roots.
There will be approximately one acre of outdoor space that will accommodate year- round learning and provide a backdrop for experiments and experiences inspired by the seasons. This outdoor space will also serve the community as a venue for organizations and individuals to host gatherings, productions and special events.
Attendees were invited after the ceremony to get up close to learn the chemistry behind the choreographed diet soda and Mentos explosions.