Children's Museum of Napa Valley board members and kids

The nonprofit is now in its early fundraising stages for a Children's Museum of Napa Valley and looking for a location. Pictured here are board members, and some of their children, from left: Etta Williams, Brenda Pedroza, Erica Aronson, Julia Fox, Alicia Garcia, Nicole Mori and Mary Luros. Not pictured: Shilah Salmon, Kate Daw, Betsy Busch, Janette Brooks, Jessica Rippey, Cleo Pahlmeyer and Thwani Q. Satton.

Hoping to “spark curiosity through play, while promoting a love of learning,” a group of locals announced plans to create Napa’s first children’s museum.

The Children’s Museum of Napa Valley will feature “rich in hands-on exhibits” designed to benefit Napa Valley and Bay Area residents and visiting children, families and caregivers.

The museum is in the fundraising stage, said Napa co-founders Etta Williams and Alicia Garcia.

An estimated $80,000 has been raised toward the future museum, said Williams and Garcia. Ultimately, the museum will need to raise more than a million dollars to launch and remain sustainable for years to come.

Both women said the idea of a children’s museum originated from a need within the community.

“As parents, we always want more for our children and after years of talking about the lack of family-focused spaces and countless hours driving in the car to other family-friendly locations, we decided to take action,” said Williams, who is also co-president of the museum’s board.

“Napa Valley has many valuable assets … and family offerings have certainly improved. However, we simply need more for families and we want to do something that the community can be proud of and make a positive impact for future generations,” said Williams.

Such a museum would be “an additional feather in the cap” of the city – and something befitting world-famous Napa Valley, said Garcia.

Both women are mothers of young children. Both also work outside the home – Williams as a pediatric speech language pathologist, and Garcia as a social worker at Hospice by the Bay in Sonoma.

They are both somewhat new to Napa – each having moved to the valley in 2014. Both previously lived in bigger cities that already have children’s museums – such as Boston, Los Angeles and New York.

They cited other Bay Area children’s museums as local examples, such as the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County and the Bay Area Discovery Museum of Marin County.

“We started researching, planning and speaking with other successful museums around the country and with fellow parents and community leaders, and our idea flourished,” said Williams.

According to a news release from the fledgling museum, a 15,000- to 20,000 square-foot indoor and outdoor space is planned, one that would appeal to all ages with a primary focus on ages up to 12, “allowing for opportunities to unplug and simply enjoy the surrounding environment.”

The museum “will pay tribute to the land, agriculture, viticulture, Napa Valley culture” and will support STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) initiatives, said the release.

Interactive exhibits are being developed with professional museum exhibit designer Daniel Wodarcyk of S2 Associates in Napa.

Napa’s children’s museum will feature “an intentionally-designed learning environment created to promote the development of essential foundational skills all while paying tribute to the unique land and agriculture of Napa Valley,” said the release.

Building, tinkering, growing, testing, painting, farming, creating, imagining and teaching “are some of the many activities envisioned to happen at this special museum,” said the release.

Garcia, board co-president, said the founding board has been working on the project for more than a year and a half and have set the groundwork in motion, “but we have a long way to go.”

Fundraising and finding the right location “are of utmost importance right now,” said Garcia.

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Children’s Museum of Napa Valley is actively working with city and county officials, individual real estate owners and developers seeking donated land or a building to house the museum. As a 501c(3) non-profit organization, “this is critical to the success and timeliness of the museum plans,” said the release.

For businesses and organizations in the region or those visiting, Children’s Museum of Napa Valley may also offer event space and an opportunity for corporate retreats to inspire creativity and teamwork.

Museum board member Mary Luros heartily supports the idea.

“As a mom, it’s critically important that our kids have a fun, educational experience right here in the valley,” said Luros, who serves on the Napa City Council.

“Children’s museums are becoming one of the most popular activities for families visiting tourist destinations, and I think it makes a lot of sense for Napa to tap into this segment of the market.”

“Having said that, this project won’t happen without a big community effort,” said Luros. “We need assistance in the form of donations — both monetary and potentially a parcel of land or a building.”

Part of the research to launch the museum included a feasibility study by ConsultEcon, Inc., based in Massachusetts.

As part of that study, the Children’s Museum of Napa Valley board hosted forums “with a diverse cross section of community leaders and members to gain insight on the prospective success of the museum,” said the release.

The study, which benchmarks more than a dozen comparable museums, favorably details the market and economic feasibility of proceeding with plans for the museum, said the release.

“The study presents for strong local and visitor attendance, with locals in need of this community resource and visitors increasingly traveling with their children to Napa Valley.”

Such a museum “will be a welcome addition to our community, enjoyed by both residents and visitors,” said Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO for Visit Napa Valley, and mother of two children, ages 5 and 7.

According to Visit Napa Valley’s most recent visitor profile study, in 2018 nearly 20 percent of visitors to Napa Valley traveled with children. “This museum will provide both an educational and entertaining experience for families to enjoy,” said Gallagher.

A capital campaign is being launched. Organizers hope to raise “millions” so that the museum can not only be created, but an endowment established.

The amount needed to be raised depends on the location, said the founders. Will a building need to be built or just improved? Will land be leased or purchased?

“We’re really honing in on the location,” said Williams. “It will drive the capital campaign.”

If all goes as planned, the group hopes to have a location nailed down by the end of 2020.

“We’re having conversations now with several developers and community leaders, and I am confident that we will find a home,” said Luros.

With funding and the endowment, “We know that we have a potential be an incredibly successful organization that is here for generations to come,” said Williams.

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.