Partner Story

Community Belonging and Engagement at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Grant Recipient

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Awarded Amount

$300,000 over one three years

In October of 2022, the Steelcase Foundation awarded Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM) a three-year $300,000 grant to engage in efforts to bring diverse national exhibits pared with intentional community outreach and engagement to ensure the Museum is a place where all children see themselves and feel welcome. Through the three-year grant, GRCM will:

  • bring engaging, diverse, and highly sought after national exhibits to the Museum, providing opportunities for children to see themselves represented, engage in high quality learning through play, and provide experiences that every child deserves;
  • create targeted community outreach and programming to supplement the national exhibits providing local context and connections to enhance learning;
  • uplift children’s voice through focus groups to set the direction for rotating and national exhibits and exhibit enhancements;
  • work to ensure that the Museum and its exhibits are welcoming for all guests through Resource Toolkits, accessible design, and reduced rate admissions through  Museums for All, reduced admission Thursdays, and Pay What You Can Memberships. 

Hear from CEO Maggie Lancaster and COO Erin Crison, as they share their insights into this work 

Please provide an overview of the project and how it came to be.
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum went to the Steelcase Foundation to initiate conversations around how to provide our community a space of belonging and engagement right inside our magical building in downtown Grand Rapids. We received support to bring in a national exhibit series, bringing the best exhibits to our community, because they deserve the best. We also received support to continue to collaborate with our community, especially children, with our internally-built exhibits. Our Exhibits for Kids By Kids will allow us to build beautiful exhibits that inspire wonder and creativity within our doors.

Please describe the work that you’ve engaged in so far, and your hopes for the work into the future.
Our national exhibit series kicked off in fall of 2022 with Mo Willems: The Pigeon Comes to Grand Rapids. This exhibit is based on the award-winning series Elephant and Piggie, The Pigeon, Naked Mole Rat and many more, providing the opportunity for nearly 38,000 guests to experience the wonder of Mo Willems’ books brought to life. Guests were also able to engage in their own creativity inspired by Mo.

The second part of our national exhibit series started on January 28, when museum guests were able to experience the national traveling exhibit Molly of Denali: An Alaskan Adventure. Based on the award-winning PBS Kids series MOLLY OF DENALI®, this national traveling exhibit created by The Magic House in collaboration with GBH Kids explores Alaska Native traditions, languages, and values. We are the first children’s museum to host and showcase this sought after exhibit. To date, we have welcomed over 51,000 guests to experience Molly of Denali: An Alaskan Adventure.

What have you learned and what might you share with others who are engaged in similar efforts?
This kind of support can lead to so many other collaborative partnerships. This demonstrates that we are creating belonging inside the museum by impacting children and families throughout the community, even if they don’t step foot in our museum. That’s important to us.

We partnered with the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) to showcase indigenous authors while Molly of Denali: An Alaskan Adventure is at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. These books are on display, and GRPL will track how often these books are being checked out. We also partnered with Kent District Library during the fall of 2022 to track the checkout rates for Mo Willems books and saw a significant increase in the checkout rates compared to the prior year. Our hope is that families leave our museum and continue the wonder of learning and exploring beyond our doors.

We also partnered with Blue Glass Studios at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital with the mascots Elephant and Piggie, and later Molly, to stream video to hundreds of families in the hospital. Molly played bingo and took questions from children who called in. In addition, Molly was in the virtual classroom and taught youth about Alaska.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
Since the national exhibit series kicked off on September 17, 2022 we have had 93,785 guests walk through our doors! Out of this number, 21,081 were Museums for All guests, which is 23 percent of all guests. We had 358 Pay What You Can membership sales/renewals during this time as well. We find this even more valuable as there were:

  • 2,828 from the 49503 zip code (Heartside neighborhood)
  • 1,946 from the 49504 zip code (Westside neighborhood)
  • 3,097 from the 49506 zip code (Baxter/Eastown neighborhood)
  • 1,501 from the 49507 zip code (SWAN/SECA)
  • 1,230 from the 49509 zip code (Roosevelt neighborhood)
  • 1,559 from the 49505 zip code (Creston neighborhood)

We’re excited to follow GRCM’s progress throughout our three-year partnership. To learn more about the Museum and its upcoming exhibits, check out its website here