Fort Kids museum kicks off capital campaign with $15,000 donation

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 758 views 

The Fort Kids Children’s Museum in Fort Smith kicked off its capital campaign Thursday (Aug. 10) with a $15,000 donation from Fort Smith Mayor George McGill. The proceeds were raised at Mayor McGill’s third annual Harlem Nights at the Cotton Club Gala in June.

Organizers of the museum announced June 17 during the mayor’s gala that the Robbie Westphal family donated 5.6 acres along the river, just south of the U.S. Marshals Museum, as the site of the future Fort Kids Children’s Museum.

Fort Smith native Sarah Strom said she had an idea that Fort Smith needed a hands-on children’s museum a couple of years ago. She made a post on Facebook asking if anyone else felt it was something that would benefit the city and was quickly overwhelmed with the responses. The group received the land donation after searching for a site for about a year, Strom said.

With Westphal’s donation, the project is picking up steam. The Fort Kids Children’s Museum has registered as a 501(c)(3) and set a board of directors. That board has hired the museum planning company Haizlip Studio, the firm that designed the River Valley Nature Center at Chaffee Crossing and the Amazeum in Northwest Arkansas, to help with the master plan, a brochure by the group said.

Prior to the mayor’s donation, the group had raised $20,000 in funds. They have three letters of support, the brochure said. The museum will be about 20,000 square feet. Strom said the total cost, including construction, exhibits and start up costs are expected to be around $16.3 million. Strom said the next steps are to begin fundraising within the community and apply for grant opportunities.

The vision of Fort Kids Children’s Museum is to “provide a safe and inviting space for all children and grown-ups to learn through play, sparking curiosity, joy, and confidence. Through hands-on exhibits, exploration, and education, we envision empowering children to connect to themselves, others, and the world to build a brighter future.”

“We strongly believe investing in our children’s educational and cultural experiences is essential for our future as a community,” Mayor McGill said. “The Fort Kids Children’s Museum represents a shining light of learning, discovery, and innovation for years to come, and I am delighted to have my administration contribute to its realization.”

Fort Kids is partnering with the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education’s Physical Therapy and
Occupational Therapy programs to ensure that the children’s museum will have a universal design. All the museum exhibits will be interactive and completely hands-on, she said.

McGill called the museum an educational and cultural phenomenon that has been shaping minds for decades.

“These interactive, dynamic spaces have evolved into pivotal institutions that foster learning, creativity and personal growth in our younger generations. Children’s museums are more than a place to play. They are immersive learning environments designed to spark curiosity and ignite the flame of imagination,” McGill said. “This museum is going to encourage our children to explore, experiment and discover at their own pace.”

According to the group’s brochure, children’s museums are a community-wide investment in children and families. The museums also serve as attractions and positively impact a city’s economy, it said. Research indicates that the average children’s museum visitor will spend $23 and an average tourist about $38 beyond the cost of admission in nearby restaurants and shops.