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North Country Children’s Museum plans move forward with $100,000 donation

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POTSDAM - A children’s museum may be opening its doors in 2015, thanks to the work of two SUNY Potsdam faculty employees.

The North Country Children’s Museum has been in the works for about 18 months. The proposed space would include 10 exhibits, covering topics like art, science and history geared towards kids.

Sharon V. Williams and April Vasher-Dean struck up a friendship in the summer of 2011. Ms. Vasher-Dean, the director of The Art Museum at SUNY Potsdam, has worked in various museums around the country. Ms. Williams worked at the Boston Children’s Museum for five years, and is now a literacy professor.

Both have children of their own and plans for the creation of a children’s museum came together quickly.

They began speaking with professors and community members, creating a nine-member board and a team of about 30 volunteers to create exhibits.

It will take about $400,000 to open the building. The board is seeking grants and donations to make it happen, and will begin holding bimonthly fundraising events starting in January.

They are already well on their way, recently announcing a $100,000 gift from an anonymous donor, bringing the total funds so far to $130,000.

The board is working on making the museum a nonprofit organization, but in the meantime it is raising funds through Seedcorn Inc., a Potsdam nonprofit that raises money for community organizations.

If all goes according to plan the museum will open its doors in 2015. In the meantime volunteers will tour the area with exhibit demonstrations as part of a Museum Without Walls program. The program started in the summer with a robotics exhibit, and will return in 2013 with activities based on Adirondack waterways.

Museum Without Walls is a way to field-test exhibits and refine them before they are moved to the permanent location.

“We’re really trying to build our outreach in the community so people know about us and are excited to see us open,” Ms. Williams said.

The community has been supportive of what they have seen so far, according to Ms. Williams. The Museum Without Walls program holds weekly robotics demonstrations at the Clarkson University bookstore, which are packed with people every time.

“People are so excited to have something to do,” Ms. Williams said.

Most of the exhibits will have a north country focus, like a maple-tree climbing sculpture and an exhibit devoted to the culture of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation.

“They kids think at the time they are having fun, but then they realize later that they actually learned,” Ms. Vasher-Dean said.

The museum’s first priority is finding a building. Ms. Williams and Ms. Vasher-Dean have been in talks with Clarkson University in hopes of renovating one of the university’s unused buildings in downtown Potsdam, like Snell Hall.

Nothing is finalized. A 2015 opening date allows time for the creation of exhibits and community outreach, which will ensure that people stay interested once the museum opens.

“For me the big fear is sustainability,” Ms. Vasher-Dean said.

In order to remain financially stable, the museum must be able to encourage visitors to return often and purchase memberships.

It will do this by creating a variety of exhibits that appeal to a wide range of age groups, along with a slate of special events.

Some activities, like a large water-play table in the Adirondack waterways exhibit, will keep children and their families coming back.

“That never gets boring. You can have a kid come back every week and still have fun,” Ms. Williams said.

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