Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.
ALBION, MI — The Kids ‘N’ Stuff Children’s Museum
in Albion is a hidden gem that really shouldn’t be hidden, says Annie Kelley, Communications Director for the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau
The sparkle of this “gem” is about to shine a lot brighter with the approval of a five-year strategic plan recently approved by the Museum’s Board of Trustees, says Katie Gigliotti, Executive Director of Kids ‘N’ Stuff.
“In the next five years we’ll be developing plans and starting to look at necessary funding for renovations that will accommodate more exhibits and community space,” Gigliotti says.
The Museum’s physical space is about 11,000 square feet divided between two buildings at 301 Superior Street in downtown Albion. Kids ‘N’ Stuff is the only children’s museum within a 40-mile radius of neighboring communities like Battle Creek and Jackson. The next closest is the Curious Kids’ Museum and Discovery Zone in St. Joseph for people living on the County’s west side and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Leslie Science & Nature for residents living closer to the east border, Gigliotti says.
Although the majority of the 30,000 visitors to Kids ‘N’ Stuff in 2023 were from Albion and other areas of Calhoun County, she says they serve a large population from Jackson and Marshall.
“Albion doesn’t have a public school system so most of the kids go to Marshall schools and there are some kids from Albion who go to schools in Jackson,” Gigliotti says. “In 2023 we had over 3,000 field trip visitors and some were coming from as far away as Indiana.”
The most popular attractions are two water tables that offer visitors different experiences and a grocery store with a kitchen that was custom-made for the Museum. Gigliotti says the store encourages peer-to-peer support and parent-to-child interaction.
In mid-January Kids ‘N’ Stuff began hosting the second traveling exhibit in its 22-year history. This exhibit is a Storyland developed by the Minnesota Children’s Museum which features three experiential immersive touchpoints based on the children’s classics — “The Snowy Day,” “Where’s Spot?” and “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
Kelley says the opportunity to play and learn is a big draw for children and parents who frequent the Museum.
“I have young nephews and they play like it’s their job. They’re not just having fun, they are learning and socializing and exploring what it means to be a person,” she says. “Kids ‘N’ Stuff is great because it’s not only something that holds a child’s attention for a few hours, it’s also good for them.”
More than exhibits and activities
Kids ‘N’ Stuff, a nonprofit, opened its doors on September 15, 2002, as a result of the work and perseverance of the Albion resident Dr. Rebecca P. Mitchell, former First Lady of Albion College, according to information on the Museum’s website. Inspired by children’s museums across the country, Mitchell dreamed of bringing an institution where children and adults could play together to downtown Albion. She rallied community support to secure a location for the Museum and to raise the necessary funds. After years of persistence, the museum came to fruition in the early 2000s. Having celebrated our 20th Anniversary this last fall, the Museum has become a downtown Albion staple for locals and regional visitors alike.
The mid-size Museum hosts birthday parties and special events including a Mom Group Meet-Up and celebrations to honor someone’s cancer-free status, in addition to the standard museum fare.
“We’re just trying to show the different types of events we can accommodate here,” Gigliotti says. “The cancer-free celebration was for a child who visited regularly and wanted to celebrate this milestone here.”
Birthday parties, she says are a common offering at children’s museums, “When I started here I saw the opportunity to grow that into being a community third space where people can gather.”
Speaking as a mom of two, she says there’s value in having gatherings in a space that offers opportunities to learn.
Unlike many museums or cultural spaces that were severely impacted by the pandemic and are still trying to regain their financial footing, Gigliotti says Kids ‘N’ Stuff was able to come through relatively unscathed because its Board of Directors took necessary precautions and implemented cost-saving measures like scaling back on utilities while keeping the buildings safe and operational.
This summer marks two years since she was named Executive Director and she says the Museum is definitely on the upswing.
“I took this position because I saw the opportunities as endless,” Gigliotti says. “The buildings themselves are just naturally set up for growth.”
The Museum has three full-time staff, including Gigliotti, and one part-time staff person. Its funding is a mixture of earned revenue — admission fees, birthday party rental fees, and membership fees, revenue from field trips, grants, corporate sponsorships, and individual donations.
In 2023, the CCVB was its largest single funder with an unrestricted gift of $25,000.Those funds were used to partially sponsor the traveling exhibit and defray the cost of a new front desk for the reception area among other priority projects.
Kelley says the CCVB is always looking to support attractions and other things that will bring people into Calhoun County.
“Kids ‘N’ Stuff is special because it’s something families can do in the winter inside. There’s not a lot in the area that does that,” she says. “It just makes sense to support this as an economic entity. We want people to come to Kids ‘N’ Stuff and get cookies at the local bakery or a burger at Albion Malleable Brewing. There’s enough to do here that you could make it a day trip or an overnight staycation.”
As a mother and a museum professional, Gigliotti says there’s a tremendous benefit to having a museum like this available to residents of Calhoun County and beyond.
“It’s all about the experience,” she says. “It’s really about getting back to basics and making the shift from a play place to an educational institution to a safe space for families to gather.”