Since 2019, Modesto’s Katie Barber and her team of educators and parents have set out on a goal to bring a children’s museum to the Central Valley. After years of fundraising, planning and community outreach amongst other efforts, that dream is finally becoming closer to a reality as construction and renovations within their space on 930 11th St. in Modesto is officially underway.
The property is the former home to Heart and Soul Coffee and the Fat Cat Music House and was acquired by the Modesto Children’s Museum organization back in 2019 with help of community donations. The vision for the museum is to offer local children unique opportunities to engage in learning-centered play, beyond what they can access at home, at school or at traditional museum environments.
Barber serves as the president of the Modesto Children’s Museum and explained how the idea of bringing a space like this to Stanislaus County came to fruition between her and the other Board members.
“We’re all parents and we’re also all passionate about making the community festive and particularly investing in our local children,” she said. “We really just wanted to create a safe space for families to connect and to support each other and focus on education.”
Once completed, the museum will feature 10 unique exhibits that will allow children to participate in hands-on learning activities, including a maker’s space, numerous science spaces, a library area, a performance stage, a geography room, a water play area, agriculture room and more. Each of the exhibits will be unique to the Modesto museum and won’t be found anywhere else. But it won’t just be for the younger children to experience, as teenage and college-aged volunteers will be accepted.
“It’s meant to encourage caregivers to be involved in the experience,” Barber said. “All of our exhibits are designed so that both children and adults can participate. It’s a very open-ended educational experience, where every kid might approach in different ways. It’s not like a tour guided experience; we want kids to really use their imagination.”
In addition, the museum plans on including low sensory rooms for children with autism and other special needs.
“We really want to make this space accessible to all children in our area,” Barber said.
Barber explained that accessibility also has much to do with location. While children’s museums can be found in larger cities across the nation, the nearest are in San Francisco, and though she believes they are great, she realizes that not everybody can travel or afford the experience.
The design and featured activities for the Modesto Children’s Museum are a culmination of ideas from the organization’s 13 board members. Barber shared that a new member of the team, Carol Scott, has been essential in the quick progress they have been making, as she has helped build three children’s museums across the nation.
“While we were planning and visiting all around the country, we probably visited more than 40 children’s museums connecting with their leadership, Carol’s name kept coming up. She’s really an expert. Carol is somebody that was experienced and knew how to make this work,” Barber said.
In addition to Scott joining the team, the group began working with Gyroscope Inc., which is a company that specializes in architectural services for museums, libraries, visitor centers and other cultural institutions. Barber explained that with the pace they are on with fundraising and the progress they’ve made with indoor renovations at their newly acquired space, things could align perfectly come springtime.
“Whenever the building is ready, the exhibits and installments will be ready to be shipped, which is very exciting,” Barber said.
With the expected opening being in the spring and with museum renderings being approved and published on the organization’s website, they have already received inquiries from school districts from across the state regarding field trip opportunities. The interest spiked again last month when the organization held an event for local educators where they shared the vision of the museum. Board members such as Patty Ramirez have also set up shop at the Turlock Certified Farmers Market to help spread the word.
The Modesto Children’s Museum is in the homestretch of its fundraising efforts. Since the idea came to fruition in 2019, the entire project has been funded through donations from community members and organizations, such as the Turlock Irrigation District, Hilmar Cheese, the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation and Stanislaus County. The organization has recently set a goal of raising an additional $1,500,000 before next spring. So far, they are just over halfway to that ed point.
The project will also receive a significant boost in funds starting in October thanks to the Boyett family of Boyett Petroleum in Modesto.
“We are thrilled to announce that we have received a generous matching grant from the Boyett Family Foundation,” Barber shared. “All donations to the museum from October to the end of the year will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $125,000. It is a great opportunity for the community to double their donation.”
Community members are encouraged to visit their website at www.modestochildrensmuseum.org to learn more about the project, view the official exhibit renderings or to donate. The latest updates on the museum can be found through their social media channels, which is Modesto Children’s Museum on Facebook, @ModestoChildrensMuseum on Instagram and @ModestoKids on Twitter.
“We are so close, and we’re really counting on the community to come through for us so that the goal of opening next spring is a reality,” Barber said.