Plans under way for children's museum

August 24, 2005

By DAN JOHNSON

ARGUS-COURIER STAFF

Collette Michaud always likes taking her children to the Bay Area Discovery Museum because they become completely absorbed by the hands-on art, science, environmental and media exhibitions, as well as the performances, special events and ongoing educational curricula.

In another sense, however, she is tired of going there. "It's a long drive," Michaud said. "But there isn't a closer children's
museum, and in fact, there isn't one for more than 200 miles between Petaluma and Eureka." Rather than simply complaining about the predicament, Michaud has been trying to address it by creating the Children's Museum of the North Bay in Petaluma.

"It's something that I've thought about for a long time, and while working at Lucas Learning, my ideas started percolating," said
Michaud, who served as the organization's art director and project leader in developing children's educational software.
"After I had my second child, Ian, things got really crazy for me, but I still wanted a children's museum in the area, and hoped someone else would make it happen," she added. Since no one stepped forward, Michaud accelerated her efforts this
year.

"I joined the Association of Children's Museums, and this April attended InterActivity, its annual conference in Indianapolis. I got really jazzed about the idea of starting a children's museum in the North Bay, and have been meeting with people about it ever since," she said."Our plans have been blossoming and mushrooming since April," she said.

She visualizes a site similar to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, but with a local twist. "We want to emphasize local themes that have been important in Petaluma's history, such as the poultry industry, river, boats, fishing, wine industry, telecom industry and train depot. Basically we want hands-on exhibits that would allow kids to have access to things they don't normally experience," she said.

Michaud contends the museum would encourage children to think independently and expand their problem-solving skills through selfexploration while exercising both their bodies and minds. Exhibits,
programs and workshops would engage children in complex forms of play that result in educational learning. "I envision the museum as a meeting place for the whole community," she said, adding that it would promote the area's ethnic diversity and be utilized by everyone, including people with learning disabilities.

Michaud, a Petaluma resident, feels that Petaluma would be an ideal location for the museum because it is a family-friendly city, centrally located in the North Bay with easy access to highways 101 and 116, and a gateway to the rich cultural attractions of cities such as Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma. "Strategically, Petaluma is located in an excellent spot, but we're also
considering other great locations, including Rohnert Park and Cotati. We may try to use an existing site or move into a storefront or mall," she said.

After studying startup costs for other children's museums in the United States, Michaud determined that $50,000 to $100,000 will be needed for market and fund-raising feasibility studies to demonstrate a need for the local, nonprofit museum. Once overall project viability has been established, she estimates that $2 million to $3 million will be required for the first three years of operations. Revenue would be obtained from contributions and grants from individuals, foundations, corporations and groups, as well as earned income, memberships and admission fees. She figures that the museum could open in three to five years, with 2008 being the best-case scenario.

Michaud began drumming up support for the museum by staffing an exhibit table at Petaluma's Movies in the Park events this summer. "Everyone I've spoken with is enthusiastic about having a museum, and many have said there aren't enough places like it around here," she said.

Nevertheless, obtaining even more community support is at the top of her agenda. "We're in the process of gaining community awareness and getting support behind us. And we would like to have as many people as possible take our survey," Michaud said. 

The survey is available at the museum Web site, www.childrensmuseumnb.org, or through the mail by submitting a
self-addressed envelope to the attention of CMNB survey at P.O. Box 2615, Petaluma 94953. Anyone interested in obtaining more information about the survey or the planned museum should call 781-3131 or e-mail info@childrensmuseumnb.org.

She is confident that the museum will become a reality. "I have received plenty of community support. People feel that there
is a need for a children's museum in this area. If there already was one, our efforts wouldn't be necessary," she said.
Contact Dan Johnson at djohnson@arguscourier.com