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Madison Children’s Museum Named Winner in KaBOOM! $1 Million Play Everywhere Challenge


Media Contact: Jonathan Zarov, Director of Marketing
(608) 354-0149, (608) 335-2783

Photos available upon request

Competition will fund play spaces in unexpected places in cities across America.

Madison, Wis. (9-27-16) — Last week, Madison Children’s Museum was selected as a winner in the Play Everywhere Challenge, a $1 million national competition that will reward innovative ideas to make play easy, available, and fun for kids and families in cities across the U.S. The challenge is hosted by KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, particularly those growing up in poverty in America.

Madison Children’s Museum created a project, Design to Move: Stair Trek, that reimagines stairwells throughout the community as play spaces, making moments of play accessible and convenient for busy families. The project will convert dingy stairwells into physically immersive art installations and whimsical interactive play experiences, using sound, light, color, paint, mosaic, metal, and a host of natural materials. Collaborating with multiple city and county agencies, including health, arts, parks and fire, the museum will build four Stair Trek exhibits in the community between January and May 2017 with the help of the KaBOOM! grant. Sites are currently being finalized. MCM will also create a toolkit for other organizations, showcasing low-cost ideas to help them transform their own stairwells into places that support joy and movement.

Design to Move: Stair Trek was selected as one of 50 winners out of a pool of more than 1,000 applications nationwide. Other winning ideas include outside-the-box play opportunities like installing a puppet theater in a Laundromat, converting outdoor cigarette stands (ashtrays) into supports for jumping rope, and creating a solar powered bubble machine.

The challenge, developed in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Target, Playworld, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Endowment for the Arts, attracted an outpouring of creative ideas to spark kids’ imaginations and get their bodies moving. Madison Children’s Museum’s idea came from a passion for using art and design to build environments that get kids more involved in discovery through creative play.

“The timing was perfect,” says Deb Gilpin, president and CEO of the museum. “We’ve been working for some time on a plan to make area stairwells more inviting, and therefore more likely to be used. We’ve already begun construction in one of the museum’s stairwells. KaBOOM! will allow us to extend our Stair Trek projects further, into places where healthy, inspirational environments are most needed.”

“Winners like Madison Children’s Museum are at the vanguard of building kid-friendly cities that meet the needs of families and enable kids to thrive,” said James Siegal, CEO of KaBOOM!. “By integrating play into everyday spaces in such an innovative way, MCM’s project is a great model to inspire other cities across the country to follow suit.”

Research shows play is vital to healthy brain development and is pivotal to how kids learn problem-solving, conflict resolution, and creativity — in other words, the skills they need to succeed as adults. Yet today, too many kids, especially those growing up in poverty, are missing out on opportunities for play because of families’ time pressures, the lure of screens, and a lack of safe places to go. Meanwhile, evidence shows missing out on playtime puts kids at risk for challenges ranging from obesity to anxiety to trouble adjusting in school.

“We’ve won a huge prize for the kids and families of Madison,” says Brenda Baker, the museum’s director of exhibits. “They don’t know it yet, but, through KaBOOM!, we’ll change the way kids’ bodies and minds develop. We’ll help create great memories of magical spaces. And it will do it in a way that makes for a more equitable community, by bringing color, whimsy and joyful experiences, to places that were previously functional but uninspiring.”

Partners collaborating with Madison Children’s Museum on Design to Move include American Family Children’s Hospital, Bayview Foundation, Dane Arts, Healthy Kids Collaborative, Madison Arts Commission, Madison Fire Department, Madison and Dane County Departments of Public Health, One City Early Learning Center, University of Wisconsin Department of Art, UW Health, and YWCA Madison.

In addition to funding from the KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge, this project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Richard B. Anderson Family Foundation, and the Madison Arts Commission. Additional support is provided by Dane Arts with funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation; The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times; the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation; and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.

Giant Bubbles and Urban Periscopes Among Winners of Play Contest, New York Times, 9/20/16

To learn more about Madison Children’s Museum’s ideas for making play happen everywhere in Madison, contact Jonathan Zarov,; (608) 354-0149, (608) 335-2783. To learn more about the Play Everywhere Challenge, and view a gallery of winning ideas from cities across the US, please visit


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