The Duluth Children's Museum has outgrown its longtime spot in the Duluth Depot -- a surprising development considering that, not long ago, it came close to shutting down.
Officials hope to move to a 30,000-square-foot site in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in about three years. Meanwhile, they'll relocate to a building nearby, a move scheduled for May 2. The larger space should allow the museum to grow.
The picture looked very different in 2004, a year before the institution's 75th anniversary. Membership had dwindled to 277, and its board and staff were shrinking, too. "No longer a viable business," proclaimed an audit. The remaining board members went on a retreat and emerged with a new plan, said President and CEO Michael Garcia. They slashed budget and staff, obtained a federal grant, and decided that -- unlike big-city museums that could target preschoolers exclusively -- they should provide programming for a wider range of ages. "We redefined our mission to, very simply stated, engage in activities that spark children's curiosity," he said.
It worked. Membership grew to nearly 10,000. Market research has suggested that the larger space could at least double that.
Originally built around a 50,000-piece collection of dolls, rocks and other artifacts donated by world-traveling Duluthians, the museum now emphasizes hands-on activities. Children can make ice cream from liquid nitrogen, dress in costumes, and play with musical light beams and motion-sensing shadow butterflies.
Visitors are encouraged "to imagine all possibilities and explore all opportunities," Garcia said.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583