If you were to ask Elizabeth Wilson, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Children’s Museum-Meridian, about the history of the project she would say that it is a story about community.
“In 2015, when Kim Bowers, Kim Denison, and I approached the Mississippi Children’s Museum for professional guidance about starting a children’s museum, they challenged us to raise $25,000 in seed money to be able to conduct a feasibility study. We doubled that amount in less than a month, thanks to the support of our amazing community,” says Wilson.
The feasibility study established what this initial fundraising success hinted—a groundswell of interest in establishing a children’s museum in Meridian. A capital campaign kicked off in Spring 2016 with the Meridian Junior Auxiliary as the first donor and the Phil Hardin Foundation as the first signature donor.
“In that first year, over thirty amazing volunteers from husband-wife duos to father-daughter duos worked to secure pledges. A year into the campaign, one large corporate donor commented how humbling it was to see such a large donor list comprised mostly of families committed to making this dream a reality,” says Wilson.
Volunteers also served on a site selection committee, which began work in 2016. Anticipating only serving a couple of months, this dedicated group met faithfully for almost a year reviewing more than a dozen sites. The final site was announced in November 2017 along with the project’s second signature gift, a pledge from The Riley Foundation.
Local leaders and educators gathered to help shape the museum’s exhibits by weaving in the heritage and culture that is unique to Meridian and East Mississippi. “The exhibit conceptual process is like nothing in which I have ever participated. Throughout two long days of brainstorming and breakout sessions, our exhibit designer sketched, and, by the end, had started to give shape to our exhibits from trains to planes to operas; it was truly magical.
In 2017, MCM-Meridian founded an arm of the statewide MCM-Partners group to begin implementing some preliminary inquiry-based learning events and immediately saw the enthusiasm for the museum’s educational work. “By the third year, our Dr. Seuss’ Silly Birthday Celebration saw more than 1,000 attendees. We didn’t even have a home yet,” says Wilson.
Perhaps most significant has been the overwhelming response to the public campaign which kicked off in May 2019.
“We have over 700 donors (and counting) from the Take Flight Mississippi challenge—gifts from as far away as the East and West coasts, to gifts from every surrounding county including Alabama, from city leaders, to children having lemonade stands. It’s inspiring to see such an outpouring of community support,” says Wilson.