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On this week’s show, we’re going to speak with Hilary Van Alsberg. She is the executive director of the Children’s Museum here in Tucson and Oro Valley. We’re going to get a sense of how this almost 40 year old institution has impacted Tucson from right here in the urban core.
Today is June 12, 2022. My name is Tom Heath, and you’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar each and every Sunday. Our focus is on social, cultural and economic impacts in Tucson’s urban core. And we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about from a mountain view, Arizona, and all stops in between. You get the inside track right here at 99.1 FM, streaming on downtownradio.org, also available on your iPhone or Android by going to your respective app store and getting the Downtown Radio
Tucson app. As always, if you want to reach us directly on the show, our email address is [email protected] On that same URL, you can find all of our past shows. A lot of people like to hit us up on Instagram and Facebook under the streetcar heading under social media. And of course, our podcast is just about anywhere. You like to find those podcasts. Well, we had news last week that Joel Valdez, a public servant for decades, passed away on Wednesday. He was 87 years old, and you probably know his name because he is the namesake of our main library in downtown. He was the city manager for 15 almost I think it was 16 years and also was at the University of Arizona after he retired. It was influential in bringing in a lot of the changes we have in Tucson. He was there at the University when they were working on the student Union, of which we’ve focused on that on our shows in the past. But I just wanted to give a notice. Tucson has been made great by many people, and public
servant Joel Valdez was certainly one of them. And we celebrate his legacy here in Tucson,
almost 40 years old now. The Tucson Museum, the children’s Museum, which is currently residing in a former library in the downtown area, is really just expanding and growing and influencing programs. And we had a chance to sit down on Friday just a couple of days ago with the executive director. Hillary Van Alzberg has been with the organization for a few years. And we got to talk about the impact of the Museum on children, but also its impact in our community. And she will reference a couple of things about Second Saturday, by the way, which was last night at the time of the recording. It was tomorrow. So don’t be confused. If you heard anything about Second Saturday, come out tomorrow. Here’s our interview with Hillary Van Alice Berg, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Tucson and Oro Valley.
I am Hilary Van Alsberg. I am the executive director at the Children’s Museum Tucson, Oro Valley.
So the Children’s Museum, you’ve got a couple of locations. You’re at the Oro Valley location?
No, actually, the main umbrella organization is the Children’s Museum Tucson and Oral Valley at the satellite location.
Okay. So you oversee both of them?
If I understand correctly, this is a Museum that is filled with all of the children artifacts of the area, things of how children have impacted the changing landscape of Tucson. Is that correct?
That is not correct. It is actually. What it is is we’re in art and Stem focused, a clay based focused Museum that is a designation for children and families to come and have engagement and interactive activities. We’ve got about 17,000 exhibit space where kids can do everything from play in our bubble garden to make their own robots to building projects and doing science activities. It’s a whole different opportunity for kids to have literacy exposure and arts and science and engineering and just in ways that kids of all different ages are able to interact and learn and play and have fun.
But what a fabulous concept. And you’re approaching a big 40th anniversary not too far in the future. How did all this get started in the 80s? What was the conversation? Where was the need?
What a great question. So the original children’s Museum was founded in and it was a group of really fabulous women in our community who came together and said we need a children’s Museum. Children’s museums are prevalent throughout the country. There are many children’s museums. Pretty much every community of any size has a children’s Museum or is working to get a children’s Museum. And this group of women came together and said, how are we going to bring this about? And so through some real dedication and some pulling together of a lot of different community resources and community partners, they founded the original children’s Museum in a one room building in Fort Lauderdale Park. And then it moved to the historic Y. And then when the old main library, which is our current home, became available because they opened the Joel Valves Library downtown, the children’s Museum bid for N was granted the use of the historic Carnegie Library downtown.
So that would explain why it looks like a library from the outside.
It is. It’s actually a historic library. The building itself was built in one as part of Andrew Carnegie’s big national campaign to build libraries in lots of rural communities.
Well, if I remember correctly, one of the founding members or one of the visionaries for this and correct me from wrong. But wasn’t Seale Peterson one of those individuals that really believed heavily in this project?
Theo is definitely one of the people who helped bring it about. The original founders were the real spearheaded the beginning workers on this project were Evelyn Carr’s well being, who is one of the original founders, who we had a relationship with right until the day she died. Absolutely a fabulous person. She was a principal here in Tucson and had a really amazing background. And Dorothy Finley was also part of it. Beth Walkup was involved. Steel Peterson was definitely involved. There were quite a few women who came together to make this all come about.
It’s a pretty powerful list of leaders in our community coming together for this. So this starts in 1986. You end up in your current location about five years later. And when did you get involved with the organization?
I started at the Children’s Museum in 2011 as the development director, and I did that role for several years and then moved on to a different position and came back in 2015, I believe maybe 2014 for the position of director of education and philanthropy, and then went on to a position at the U of A at the University of Arizona Libraries. And when the executive director position came available, I put my hat in the ring and here I am. I’ve been here as the executive director since 2019.
Wow. In the Ora Valley location that opened just before that, didn’t it? Like in 20 16, 20 17.
We opened in 2015. Yeah. Wow.
Time is flying. Time is flying. So obviously you’ve got this great space and families come, children come and enjoy this space, but you also do a lot of clinics and classes and camps and such, is that correct?
Oh, boy. We’ve got programming and events and all kinds of different engagements. The things that are kind of current that are happening on an ongoing basis are quite interesting and quite varied. We’ve got a weekly program called My Time, which is a low sensory time for kids who need a little quieter environment. So every day, every weekday from three to five, the Museum will turn off things that have loud noises or strobe lights, anything that’s got a kind of a high sensory output. And that program is really great for families to come together and be in a little more inclusive environment. That inclusive programming takes place five days a week, and it’s actually sponsored so that we’re able to make that a half price opportunity every day. We’ve been offering My Time since 2017, and it has really grown in popularity. And families really enjoy having a time this reduced price admission, but also lower sensory sensory input. Another program that is going on at the Children’s Museum, sort
of a perennial program is our Art After Dark program. So Art After Dark takes place in conjunction with the Downtown Second Saturday’s event. And that’s another event that we get sponsors for to be able to make the Museum every second Saturday of the month free so families can come for free admission. And it’s open in evening hours recognizing that sometimes it’s hard to get here in the day and you have other priorities. So for free, families come down and we put on arts programming and we invite in a community arts partner to be able to put on a program or something that is interactive and engaging for kids and families to do together. So, for example, for Art After Dark tomorrow, actually, our second Saturday is coming up is the Tucson Symphony is coming. And so there’ll be engagement that we put on and there’ll be performances and interactive experiences that the Symphony is putting on. We partner with so many different arts organizations. It’s a great way for us to highlight different
arts organizations in the community and really be seen as a hub for connecting families. The cool things that are going on around town.
Well, cool things going on around TownTown for sure. And when we come back from the break, we’ll find out about Oro Valley and the overall impact of something like a children’s Museum in a community. My name is Tom Heathon. You’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar, Downtown Radio, 99.1 FM and available for streaming on Downtownradio.org.
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Welcome back to the second half of our interview with Hillary Van Alzberg, the executive director of the Children’s Museum of Tucson in Oro Valley. And we had talked a lot about their programming, and we’ll get into some of the things that they’re doing not just in downtown but in their Oro Valley location and throughout the community.
Are there different or sort of parallel events in Oral Valley?
They’re different events for Aurora Valley. So one of the things that we’re most excited about for Oral Valley right now is we are partnering with Tajono Chule and doing a program called Nature Nino all summer. This is a long term program that we just introduced. And every Saturday we are at Tahoe in the morning from nine to eleven, and then also in the evening hours, we’re putting on Nature Nine zeros from six till eight. The six till 8 hours are free admission to the gardens for all families. And then the morning hours, the programming is included with your admission to the park, to the gardens. And what’s great about Nature Nino is it’s really a collaboration 100% with Tana Chul. They recognize that we’ve got a great audience of young families and young families should know about what a great resource to Hono Chul is and what a great park and garden. It is. So we’re working together to highlight all of the wonderful things that are available there. And we love that kind of a partnership.
Very cool. I’m probably late in asking this question because it’s already mid June, but summer, lots of camps happening and you’ve got specific events. Do you have any availability left for any of your camps?
We do. There are a few spots left and a few of our camps. And all of that information is on our website. We’ve got great summer camps. What’s nice about the Children’s Museum is you know that if you come and sign your kid up for a camp at the Children’s Museum, it’s led by our Children’s Museum staff. We’ve got a great education team, and we’re actually supported with really great U of A interns as well. So again, more collaboration, more partnership with the community that helps bring interns in from U of A who are looking to get into the education field and want to get a feel for what it’s like. So it’s a great education opportunity for them and it’s a great way for us to have support for our camps. We do have summer camps available. There are a few spots available, so it’s easy to find on our website.
And we’ll link to that, of course, from our Facebook page. It’s Children’s Museum Tucson.org, correct?
Yes, that’s right.
And one thing, I invite anyone. If you go to your website, please go to the about us and meet our staff, because I absolutely love that you have all of the staff photos listed from when they were children.
Isn’t that fun?
It’s great. And I’m wondering, as I’m looking at some of these faces, I’m wondering how many of them were children at the Museum in the that may be working for you.
It’s so funny because we do have people that will come in. No matter what age range you come in, you will have a connection to the Museum. It’s either, oh, I came here with my mom as a child, and it was a library or definitely you’re right. We do have people on our staff who say, yes, I came here, I sat on that police motorcycle, I rode in that fire truck. What’s nice about the Children’s Museum exhibits and events and different programming is they change. We make sure that no matter what, you know, if you’ve come once or you come ten times a year, every time you come, you’re going to have a different experience. One of the things that we’re doing in house is every day we have a program at 01:00 called Generation Creation. And what’s cool about the Generation Creation program is it’s free, it’s included with the admission to the Museum. And it’s a facilitated program in the Museum where we’ll pull out sewing machines, hot glue guns, saws drills, any kind of thing that gets parents to go,
okay, what are you doing over there. And kids would think, I want to do that. And what’s great about that is it stretches the caregiver understanding of I don’t think my kids should be doing that to really recognizing kids can do a lot more than you think they can, and they want to try new things, and they want to try things that seem a little bit out of the norm that they might necessarily be exposed to at home. And that gets kids discovering and creating and learning how to conceive of a concept and conceive of a design. It’s really a Stem. It’s an engineering program that gets them to think, well, what if I try this? And even if they don’t succeed in what they had originally planned to make, they’re making something. And it’s all about the inventing process and that critical thinking, skill building set.
So you’re extremely the people that come to your Museum, they’re hands on. They’re touching everything. It’s not a do not touch display. It’s a you must touch kind of display. Has that always been the philosophy, or has that evolved over time? Have you learned different things that impact children’s learning?
Oh, absolutely. That has always been our ethos. It’s definitely been hands on, interactive experience. That’s our mission. That will always be part of central to our mission, but you’re always learning. What’s amazing about the children’s Museum field is that we’re the most collaborative profession there is. We have a national organization called the association of Children’s Museums where we can all come together at a conference. We come together online all the time. We build partnerships with our peers to learn from each other. So from simple things like how are you doing remote online learning during the pandemic, too? What’s your membership model? Or how are you doing events for fundraising events or just you name it. There’s always a resource that you can turn to, and we share ideas because children’s museums are quintessentially local organizations. We’re all nonprofits, right? The Children’s Museum Tucson is a nonprofit organization, so everything we do is community centric and community
funded. So in order to exist, we rely on having revenue that is from the ticket prices, but it’s also from donations and foundations and community support. So there’s no competition locally for ideas that are good ideas that apply across the field.
So as a matter of support, obviously, if you are in a role of a development director, you’re out trying to raise money, and I’m sure you’ve got the standard Corporation supporting you, but you probably also rely on a lot of just families and communities or members of the community. How do people do events? How do people get involved to support?
What a great question. I love that question. One of the big things that is, I think somewhat surprising to people is that we are a nonprofit organization. So it is something that isn’t just the government funds us or this isn’t a money making business where we’re turning a profit. This is all community based, and we’re here making sure that we can have accessible programming for the community as affordably as possible, and making sure that we have accessibility as a priority in everything we do, every decision we make and how we actually approach funders to support us. The Children’s Museum itself is easy to understand. I would say it’s an easy to understand organization for funders. We’re not controversial. We’re not trying to do things that are very esoteric or very niche. We’re supporting children and families in our community, and that’s good for everybody. So our funding sources are very varied. We do have a lot of local corporate support. We’ve got a lot of local foundations. But
all of those decisions are just led by people. Right. Every corporate supporter is a person behind that decision saying, Yep, we’ll give that grant and every foundation and every individual donation is built on a trust relationship that we’re doing what we say we’re going to do and that we’re stewarding the money that they’re contributing to our organization well, and we’re using it. We’re fiscally responsible and we’re doing good things for kids. We built that over time, and we’re very proud of how we are stewarding the community’s resources Well, I was just.
Now clicking through some of your website now to see you rely on a lot of volunteers to help out with we do.
We do. You bet. We’ve got a staff of 41, and we’re open seven days a week during the summer and six days a week during the year. And staff is a magical, wonderful, very enthusiastic crew. But we wouldn’t be able to do all of the things and all of the outreach and all of the events and all the activities that we do without really great supporter of volunteers. We partner with different organizations. San Miguel High School, obviously, is a wonderful resource, and we have San Miguel interns year after year that are absolutely exceptional. They get a great work experience. We get a great volunteer who is part of our team. And very often those volunteers turn into first job opportunities for students. And that’s just a one shiny example of great volunteer experiences that we’ve had.
Yes, that’s the whole gamut there. You’re teaching the youth with that intermediate group and you’re educating them on the professional world and leading them into their first job. That’s a whole spectrum of support to a community.
It’s so good that you pick up on that time, because we are really an educational institution at our core. Our job is kids, and kids don’t stop at age ten. Kids are kids in middle school and kids are kids in high school. And we see ourselves as really serving the mission of making sure that we provide a good first job experience. And we make sure that there are volunteer opportunities for kids that are 16 and up, because that’s a great way to get experience. And it’s hard to get your first job if it requires you to have experience. And we recognize we can be part of that solution.
So Hilary Van Ellsberg, the executive director of Children’s Museum in Tucson, Oro Valley. I’m always fascinated when I hear stories, and it’s amazed to me that after five years, we haven’t had you on the show. So I really appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Any last words before we wrap up?
Well, I guess what I’d say is if you haven’t been to the Children’s Museum, you’ve got to get here. We’ve got about 41% of visitors come to the Children’s Museum on a reduced or free price admission day. And that is a real commitment that we’ve made to make sure that the Children’s Museum reflects the community that we serve is accessible. We want you to feel like your family. This is your children’s Museum. So come to Discovery Night. Just come for art after Dart, come for brain boost. Feel free to join the Children’s Museum with your kids and find out what’s going on. There’s always something fun at the Children’s Museum.
All right. That was Hilary Van Alsberg. She is the executive director for the Children’s Museum of Tucson and Oro Valley. Thank you for her. I know it’s a busy time in the summer. They’re running open every day. They got camps and events going on. So I appreciate her taking some time out to chat with us. Well, my name is Tommy and you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio 99.1 FM and available for streaming on Downtownradio.org.
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Hey, that’s episode 206. We are in the books. Next week will be Father’s Day. If you’ve got any suggestions for show topics, why don’t you hit us up at [email protected]? Or better yet, head over to our social media on Facebook and Instagram and Hagas and something that we should be sharing. Our goal is to uncover these hidden gems, and so many of them come from listeners like you. Also remember to head over to the Downtownradio.org website. You just heard a nice promo about all the swag you can get there, but you can also find out about our shows and music programming throughout the week. As a reminder, we’re a rock and roll radio station with a really eclectic play mix from a Monday through Saturday very dedicated DJs sharing interesting genres of music that they are passionate about and then on Sundays we started off with Mr. Nature and little leaf radio DJ bank the musical bomb. Then we line up our talk shows with us and then following us we’ve got Ted Prazelski’s words
and work and at the top of the hour Ty Logan and heavy mentor. We have tremendously dedicated folks here working on the station on their shows so please give it a read on the website and then find a few shows that you have not listened to and my guess is you’re going to like them. You’re going to find something you like on that website for sure. Well I wanted to thank again Hilary van Elsberg from the children’s Museum for joining us today and all I could think about during that show was how much the Museum how much fun you would have in that Museum. You’d be learning by accident because you’d just be enjoying yourself so much. So we dug up an old song here from the 70s. This is from Sly and the family stone. I found out the greatest hits album from 1970 and the song is called fun have a great week and tune in next Sunday for more life along the streetcar.