It was the perfect visual to answer the question, “Why the Amazeum?” A five-year-old girl, wearing a long, flowing, pink princess dress and safety goggles, reaching up with a wrench to take apart the doorframe of a minivan. The tools in her hands didn't feel out of place at all. And the smiles on the faces of that little princess-turned-auto tinkerer and her parents were priceless.
That’s why I do what I do. It’s why so many individuals, families, and donors came together to create the Amazeum – a venue intentionally designed to evoke a sense of curiosity and discovery through hands-on experiences – in Northwest Arkansas.
That little girl, her family and the hundreds of others who dismantled that minivan down to its frame, did so as part of TinkerFest, an extension of the Amazeum’s wildly popular 3M Tinkering Hub.
It's all there in the Tinkering Hub – from packaging tape, scissors, paperclips and cardboard toilet paper rolls to hot glue guns, soldering irons, wires and power tools. The beauty of the Tinkering Hub is that absolutely everything is left to the imagination. Everyone walks in with a clean slate – and it’s amazing to see how that kind of environment brings people and families together.
What you discover pretty quickly is that creativity is not an exclusive thing. It's inside everyone. So when you give people the freedom to explore, magic happens. Kids get to see a different side of their parents – one where they struggle and experience completely new things. And parents see their kids take the lead. Families come together. They make discoveries. They make memories – and, often times, unlock doors they've never opened before.
We’ve seen entire fashion runway shows created from plastic shopping bags, hot glue guns and string. Pieces of art. Circuit blocks. On many occasions, hours pass without families even realizing it. And what really excites me is when parents tell me their kids went home and turned the garage, a shed or a room into their very own Tinkering Hub. We created a pathway for kids to take ownership of this experience.
The Tinkering Hub – and the Amazeum, in general, is a place where people can come and slow down. Time slows down because there’s freedom and engagement. When you come here, you're the one in control of all the levers and switches. It's your adventure. So, from providing a vehicle for families to grow closer together, to helping turn the wonder of science or math on for a child – that’s what ongoing support from organizations like the Walton Family Foundation translate into.
When we opened in July 2015, we projected 180,000 guests would pass through the Amazeum doors during its first year of operation. By early 2016, we had far surpassed that figure, months ahead of schedule, and in April this year we welcomed our 500,000th visitor. There’s clearly a thirst for this kind of experience. And the community has embraced it with open arms
This story originally appeared in the 2015 Walton Family Foundation Annual Report.