I am excited to get all the people back…summer camps, weekly programming…excited to hear the giggles and the laughter…

Anne Snow

Executive Director, Children's Museum of La Crosse

On this episode we talked with Anne Snow, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of La Crosse. We talk about the origins of the museum, upcoming classes, and experiences. Also, we touch on Covid and the process of closing and reopening, rotating exhibits, and where can people find out more.

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Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop, everyone is welcome. For more information, visit them online at PFC.coop. This podcast is also brought to you by Trempealeau County Tourism. Whether your idea of fun is bicycling, hiking or canoeing, afterwards head into the heart of one of their welcoming communities to experience historic architecture, independent shops and locally owned dining establishments. Visit Trempealeau County Tourism online. Artspire is back with a full weekend of art at the Pump House Regional Arts Center. Enjoy live music from Cloud Cult, Bill Miller and B2wins, plus a fine art fair, interactive art projects, and visual and performing arts June 10th through 11th. Learn more at artspire@thepumphouse.org. On this episode, we talk with Anne Snow, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of La Crosse. We talk about the origins of the museum, upcoming classes, and experiences. Also we touch on COVID and the process of closing and reopening rotating exhibits and where people can find out more. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 01:27
And I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 01:28
And this is La Crosse Local.

Anne Snow 01:29
I’m Anne Snow, and I was born in Stamford, Connecticut, raised in Chicago, Illinois, and then Austin, Minnesota. And moved to Minneapolis and went school through university and then moved down to New Orleans and loved the Children’s Museum there and then move to La Crosse. And we didn’t have a children’s museum, and therefore I had to start one.

Brent Hanifl 01:56
How long ago was that? How many people were involved? It seems like it’s always been a community effort.

Anne Snow 02:02
I mean, it takes a village and we’re really blessed. We’ve really been the Cinderella story of children’s museums. Because here I was, I didn’t know anybody in town. And these wonderful women in town kind of took me under their wing. And they really we call them our founding ladies. My fairy godmothers, they recruited the first board of directors, they connected us with the Collins who donated the building, they connected us with Gordon, and many other donors. But we started in 1996, June of 1996, was when the project started. And then we opened in February of 1999. So we’ve been around. And it’s all been good. It’s been a real, I mean, other than COVID, it’s all been great.

Brent Hanifl 02:47
Speaking about that you guys are back at it after COVID with a variety of hours, classes and different experiences. What was the process like for closing and then kind of opening back up again?

Anne Snow 02:58
It was pretty horrible, actually. I mean, to just completely close our doors and be dark here was such a foreign thing for us to be closed for 15 months, when we rely heavily on our earned income to operate the museum and to go to zero earned revenue. It was a real shock to our systems. And we had to let go of a lot of staff. It was a struggle. And it was just really sad to come into the museum and have it be quiet and dark every day. We’re so used to the giggles and the laughs and the joy at the museum that it was a little depressing here. And it’s taken us a while, our board’s been really strategic. And we just started simply kind of not knowing what it would be like when we opened and knowing that there were folks that didn’t want to mask and there were people that wanted to mask and really trying to protect our littlest visitors. So now we’re mask free here at the museum, people are welcome to wear masks if they want to. We haven’t been so busy that people haven’t been able to socially distance here. But we’re really seeing an uptick in our numbers. And it’s really giving us a lot of hope that we’ll be back to where we were in 2019, which was our biggest year ever with almost 80,000 visitors. So yeah, so we’re really hoping that it’s just a matter of time and we’ll have all the all the joy back again.

Brent Hanifl 03:09
I’ve visited a children’s museum in Madison and in Minneapolis, and in Appleton, Wisconsin is another example of that multi-floors sort of building, you know, its kind of almost like a destination for travelers as well.

Anne Snow 04:32
It is. We get a lot of calls from folks out of town and if you enjoy one children’s museum, you can almost bet you’re gonna enjoy another one and they’re all a little bit different. They all have a little bit different exhibits and they try to draw off their region. Like we have our Mississippi River in the basement. We have a Kwik Trip on our second floor. They’re all different, but they’re all really based on hands on learning, exploration, using your imagination. It’s just all really good. And right now, when children have been home for so long, and haven’t had those experiences out in the real world and in the public, I think it’s going to be enjoyed that much more.

Brent Hanifl 05:11
It looks like you’re also, your calendar is kind of filling up here, you kind of recognize a few of them, what are some of your ongoing programs that people can jump in?

Anne Snow 05:19
Well, we added back in birthdays. So that’s really exciting. We’ll have birthday parties here again, in April, we’ve been doing private rentals all along. But doing more of those more holiday events. Now we have a big new exhibit being installed on manufacturing, it’s called Fad Fab. And that’s going to be really fun for folks to come see this summer. We have a bye bye button now. So for those kids that have that struggled to leave the museum, they get to push a button. And when they go outside in the window, we have a kind of a ball, I don’t know it uses pool balls, and they drop and roll and really its cool. But they have to push the button and then actually leave the museum to see it. And we’re hoping once they’re out on the sidewalk, it’ll be easier for their adults to get them into the car.

Brent Hanifl 06:08
You know, I was taking my own kids down there, you know, the rotating exhibits was something that I always liked to check out. Has that changed considerably or are you mapping out a couple years now?

Anne Snow 06:17
Well, we had one shortly after we opened. And I think for 2022, just because our permanent exhibit this Fad Fab got pushed off because of COVID. Production and materials, everything got pushed off. So for 2022 this is probably it. But I should never say never. Because if we get an opportunity, and the board says yes, we’ll jump at it. But yeah, those are things we plan well ahead of time, they take some financing, and some finessing both.

Brent Hanifl 06:48
So what’s next, what are you excited for?

Anne Snow 06:50
I’m excited to get all the people back, just to get back into some old routines. The summer camps and the weekly programming like you mentioned. I’m just excited to hear the giggles and the laughter, and the look at me mom and watch me, that. And I’m just excited to get back to that normal, that old normal. But I’m also excited that we’ve had an opportunity to make changes and do some updates. And we’re going to keep working on some of those projects, you know new carpeting and some of the boring stuff that maybe people won’t even notice. But for us behind the scenes, it’s it’s nice to do, it feels good. And it feels like we’re saying, you know, new bathrooms, we’re going to redo our bathrooms in the fall. And maybe the patrons don’t care that much. But we like to keep it feeling good for you, if you’ve been here 100 times, or if you’re here just for your first time.

Brent Hanifl 07:51
You kind of referenced the ability it kind of gave you time, the ability to kind of think about programming, but also, you know, kind of these little fixes. You know, I don’t want to say positive, but was there anything positive about the experience of having that time to kind of go through different pieces of the museum?

Anne Snow 08:06
Oh yeah, if I have to focus on silver linings, I would say we got really organized, we got a lot of filing done, we got a lot of files digitized, which I think will help in the next 10 to 20 years. We’ve just accumulated so much paper in the last 25 years, that it was really good to have time to do that. And to do it well, not being in some kind of big rush. So yeah, there are some positives, but the negatives definitely outweigh. For us, we’re just such a hands on business. That definitely, really was tough.

Brent Hanifl 08:40
I’m definitely gonna be bringing my kids down there soon, I got three of them. And they asked about the children’s museum about at least every other week. So we’ll be headed down there.

Anne Snow 08:48
Oh, I love to hear that. And we appreciate hearing that we really do. And we appreciate the folks who have connected with us through the closure. We got videos from friends whose kids were saying, when can I go back to the museum, and lots of encouraging emails and lots of donations. Our donors came out like crazy during COVID. And we’re so grateful, we really had to flip flop our business plan and that was great.

Brent Hanifl 09:16
So if people want to find out more, you know, check out the programming, you know, see what else is coming down the line, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?

Anne Snow 09:22
Fun. museum.org is our website. And then of course find us on Facebook for more frequent updates. And you can sign up for our newsletter. We don’t send a gazillion emails, but we do send a pretty decent newsletter that lets you know what’s going on. And when, like I said, we don’t send a ton of emails, I promise you you’re not going to get something once a day. You’re going to maybe get something once a month but it’s worth it if you want to know what’s going on and you don’t want to miss a program or something. Right now, we’re doing some pop up programming now. So you might not know about that unless you check our Facebook page and website regularly but that’s it. We’re working with some students from Poli Tech and they’re going to come over and do some pop up art programs. And it’s going to be really fun. We had some folks from students over there doing some 3d printing. Our visitors designed bubble wands, they went back and 3d printed them and so there’s going to be all sorts of good stuff going on, but you just got to catch up with us.

Amy Gabay 10:26
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.


About La Crosse Local

La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.

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