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Children's MuseumThe membership of the JLM voted in January of 2001 to pursue the adoption of a Signature Project. By April of that year, we had established a review committee consisting of the community council vice-president as chairman, the president, president-elect, community research chairman, and placement chairman. Working diligently, this group was prepared to make recommendations to the community council by January of 2002. Among those was to hire a professional consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study of developing a children’s museum in Montgomery. The League would provide a task force of 5-7 people to oversee the progress of the study. One month later, the Board accepted this recommendation. The membership signed on the dotted line in March of 2002 when they voted to approve funding the feasibility study. Here is how the voting item read:
“At the March 5th membership meeting the board presented its recommendation for the next step in the signature project research process. The board proposes to spend up to $50,000 on a feasibility study for the creation of an educational, hands-on, children’s museum in Montgomery, preferably located in the downtown area. Members will vote on the recommendation at the April placement interviews. If it passes, the League will form a task force that will hire and work with a consulting firm to develop this study over 3-6 months. This task force will be available as placement next year. If the results of the feasibility study are positive, it is expected that the Junior League of Montgomery will recommend the commitment of signature project funds and volunteers as a founding partner in this new museum, So, when voting on the feasibility study, please, realize you are indicating your support for the concept of a Children’s Museum as our signature project."
This big step was approved by the membership and by August of 2002, Lord Cultural was hired to conduct the feasibility study. In April of 2003, the Feasibility Study for a Children’s Museum for Central Alabama River Region was completed and presented to the League. The study found that the River Region could raise $7 million dollars and support a 20,000 square foot institution. Children’s museums earn approximately 60% of their revenue, more than any other cultural institution. The average time frame from inception to opening of a children’s museum is 5-7 years. The League has established criteria for a Community Board, including 20% representation form the Junior League of Montgomery. JLM provided the feasibility study, seed money, and future financial and volunteer support commitments. In the interim of that 5-7 year time frame, the JLM’s Signature Project task force recommended building Phase 1 of the Signature Project. Their proposal read as follows:
“The Signature Project Task Force recommends allocating up to $200,000 from the Signature Project Fund toward Phase 1 of a Children’s Museum, a science-themed outdoor playscape in the newly revitalized downtown riverfront area. The design, creation and completion of the project would be Phase 1 of the Junior League of Montgomery’s first Signature Project. At completion of this project, the playscape would be gifted to the City of Montgomery.”
It was felt the fundraising climate was difficult at the time, after 9/11 and with the state and city running deficits, for raising the entire amount for the museum and that the time frame of 5-7 years seemed long. An interim project would provide the Children’s Museum Community Board time to build the board and raise money and still have the League making a community impact with the playscape. The amendment voted on in March of 2004 provided up to$200,000 from the Signature Project Fund toward Phase 1, a science-themed playscape in the newly revitalized downtown riverfront area, which was completed this spring and gifted to the City of Montgomery. Meanwhile, the community board established by the JLM researched children’s museums, and how to build an effective board around fund development. Recognizing that they were creating an institution that would create a legacy for the League and live on in Montgomery for years to come, it was imperative that the Children’s Museum Founding board do their homework to lay a firm foundation. They attended an Association of Children’s Museums Conference on emerging children’s museums, joined the Association of Children’s Museums, and developed printed materials and a power point presentation to publicize this project. They have completed Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws and filed their 501(c)(3).
At the conference on emerging museums, the community board learned that the League had made the right decision in first conducting a feasibility study. This is the very first step that should be taken when considering a Children’s Museum. Recently, the community board has made presentations to presidents and vice-presidents of various women’s organizations in town, including Betty Bobbit Byrne and Leah Stephens of the JLM. The Children’s Museum of Alabama provides a fantastic opportunity for the League to work directly with other women’s organizations in town in a continuing effort to improve things for all people of the river region. Also, they have met with the mayor, who has offered his help in moving the Children’s Museum forward, and with business people involved in the Riverfront Development Foundation and Envision 2020.
Possible locations are being looked at and considered. Along with the remaining money saved by the League for the signature project, the Board has two other leadership gifts at this time. New board members are also being recruited to fill key needs of the organization. Laura Crum, a past JLM president is doing pro bono legal work for the organization. Thus, Phase 2 of the Signature Project is underway, and hard work is being done to make a reality The Children’s Museum of Alabama. The Junior League of Montgomery continues their tradition of making Montgomery and the surrounding river region a wonderful place to live. The Children’s Museum of Alabama will not only meet real needs of our underprivileged children but can meet needs of gifted and special needs children as well. It creates a beautiful three-dimensional legacy epitomizing the mission statement of the Junior League of Montgomery. We are an organization committed to voluntarism and improving Montgomery through action and leadership. What an exciting day it will be when we are all cutting the ribbon of this tremendous gift to our community!