Anne Bradshaw Craig passionately shared her vision of establishing a children’s museum in the Shoals in 1995 through a series of meetings with those who had expertise in education, finance, law, fine arts, public relations, and fundraising. These meetings included parents, representatives from several agencies, and community leaders. In time, the group organized a Board of Directors as well as other complementary committees. These groups developed a mission statement, by-laws, sought non-profit status, and pursued input from museum experts. A common objective soon emerged: provide children of the Shoals a space where play would educate and foster creative and critical thinking about the uniqueness of the region.
In the summer of 1996, the Board of Directors hosted a broad-based focus group event to determine the probable level of participatory and financial support in the Shoals for a children’s museum. Participants in the large focus group included many children of diverse ages as the major target audience for the proposal. An educator from the Cumberland Museum in Nashville conducted science activities providing the Board members time to informally interact with children and elicit their ideas. Other attendees included community members and Chattanooga museum designer, Lee Skolnick. Outcomes from the focus group, community leaders, and state legislators signaled to the Board of Directors that a children’s museum fulfilled an important gap in the museum structure of the Shoals and that it would be viable.
Florence City permitted the Board of Directors to renovate the house at the entrance of Deibert Park to serve as the site for the museum. Reb Haizlip, designer of the Memphis Children’s Museum, developed the themes generated by the community about the community. The museum’s doors opened to an excited public in 2001! Children loved it! The community loved it! The museum developed a continuing successful history of educational service to diverse populations for 15 years. The challenges of fundraising for a non-profit organization in the light of a financial loan for the initial development of the museum forced the Board to close the museum and regroup as it negotiated funding the outstanding loan and sought sustainable financial support within the community. A parallel effort included engaging additional talents from a broader spectrum of people to expand the Board and multiply its human resources.
In the summer of 2017, following an extensive renovation and exhibit renewal, the community revived its commitment to the Children’s Museum Shoals. The doors opened to an enthusiastic public. Once again, the children love it! The community loves it! This generation of children’s voices squeal with excitement as they engage in new and favorite exhibits. The museum continues to create opportunities for learning through play. Many people currently serve in active roles promoting the growth of the museum as an innovative resource for families and educators.