Shortly after kicking off its capital campaign, the Fort Kids Museum has already raised close to $1.5 million for a new children’s museum in Fort Smith. A recent luncheon pushed the campaign closer to a short-term $3 million goal.
The nonprofit organization hosted a luncheon Sept. 14 to kick off its capital campaign and raised over $1 million of the overall $16.5 million goal during the event. Ashleigh Buckley, vice president of the Fort Kids Board, said the group has raised almost $1.5 million so far for the project.
“The luncheon was an opportunity for the Fort Kids Board to share the mission, vision, and scope of the project and the impact it will have on Fort Smith and the region,” said Sarah Strom, president of the Fort Kids Board.
Fort Kids has a goal to raise the first $3 million dollars of the capital campaign by the second quarter of 2024. On Aug. 10, Fort Smith Mayor George McGill presented the organization with a $15,000 donation raised at 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.
“There is so much momentum and excitement for Fort Kids. More and more people in our
community are becoming personally invested into the idea of building a legacy that will impact
future generations,” Strom said.
Among donors at the September luncheon were Mark and Vicki Rumsey, who became the first anchor donors giving $600,000. Joey and Ali Rumsey donated $350,000. Other donations included an anonymous $50,000 donation.
“Fort Kids is more than just a children’s museum, it is a resource for the region and has the ability to really foster a child’s potential from an early age,” said Joey and Ali Rumsey.
Mark Rumsey said between the economic impact, social impact and educational impact Fort Kids Children’s Museum could have on the region, he believes investing in this project feels hopeful. Other donors included Jim and Diane Arnold, Kellie and Jantzen Black, Matt and Carly Marshall, Hank and Deana Hankins, Wade and Emily Pressley, and Reed and VyVy Sengel.
“The luncheon created a spark. We know Fort Kids is going to be built for our community, by our community. Every penny counts, and every donation keeps us moving forward to reach our goal of creating a safe place where kids can learn about who they are and their world without having to travel too far to have a unique experience that is special. People will create memories at Fort Kids that they will carry with them for years to come,” Buckley said.
Strom, a Fort Smith native and daughter of Mark and Vicki Rumsey, said she had an idea 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.
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.
Buckley said board members and organizers are meeting with families and individuals who might be interested in becoming anchor donors, who will have their names associated with different wings or areas of the museum. The next step is to seek out grants for some of the construction of the building and exhibits, she said, noting that there is a team researching and filling out grant applications.
“Then we will start having conversations with companies and corporations in our area who might be interested in sponsoring some of our exhibits that deal with what they do or have aspects they have an interest in,” Buckley 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.
Along with fundraising, Buckley said organizers are talking with architects and designers about the exhibits and aspects of the museums in order to finalize renderings that can be used to show potential donors and others interested in the museum.
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.”
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.
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.