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Madison Children’s Museum plans Design to Move: Stair Trek with help of major grants


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

Photos available upon request

Project will transform Madison stairwells into engaging, playful spaces to encourage movement, health and wonder

Madison, Wis. (9-27-16) — So often, stairwells are pushed to the corners of buildings, used only when the elevator goes out or there’s an emergency. Why couldn’t stairwells be fun, playful spaces? We might dance our way up the stairs on the way to buy a fishing license. Kids might beg their parents to let them take one more trip up a favorite whimsical stairway. We’d all get more exercise along the way.

With gaining momentum and financial supporters, Madison Children’s Museum aims to make area stairwells inspiring and joyful places. Work on the project began after the museum won a competitive matching grant of $148,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Design to Move projects will improve the health of the community through innovative collaborations between city officials, artists, designers, and health professionals. The initiative is housed in and coordinated by Madison Children’s Museum, with help from many project partners.

Brenda Baker, director of exhibits for Madison Children’s Museum sums up the opportunity: “Good design can be a powerful motivator — and changing the environment can change behaviors. We’re betting that more playful, engaging environments will get people moving and result in better health.”

There’s evidence to back that up. Studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have found that by enhancing the appearances of stairwells, businesses have increased stair use by more than 50 percent.

Two key partners on the initiative are the Madison Fire Department and the Healthy Kids Collaborative. Both signed on to help address what they see as a growing public health threat — inactivity and poor health. The statistics are particularly alarming regarding children. For instance, currently less than half of Dane County youth report being active at recommended levels; 23% of those children are overweight, and 9% are obese.

Fire Department emergency calls increasingly involve health issues that have nothing to do with fires. The Fire Department has been an invaluable partner helping to identify acceptable and safe ways to modify stairwells that also must serve as fire escape routes.

Julia Stanley of The Healthy Kids Collaborative of Dane County says, “Our collaborative is excited about this initiative because we love when art, play and physical activity come together in the community. Creating fun and sustainable ways for families to be more active improves everyone’s health.”

Transforming stairwells is the first major initiative of Design to Move — dubbed Stair Trek. Plans include makeovers of all three stairwells at Madison Children’s Museum: a staff stairwell that will include incentives encouraging MCM employees to take the stairs; Core to Cosmos, a public stairwell that will take visitors on an upward journey from the earth’s fiery core into space; and a second public stairwell that will employ area artists to improve the stairway experience.

Out in the community, MCM and partners will work to transform about a half dozen stairwells, mostly in public and residential areas that serve diverse audiences. Site locations are currently being finalized. Funding from the KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge supports most of these projects.

“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.”

Currently planned Stair Trek exhibits are scheduled to roll out from January to May of 2017.

Related programming at the museum and out in the community will complement the Stair Trek exhibits.

The scope and reach of the project is limited only by the number of steps in the community and the imaginations of their stewards. Design to Move hopes to catalyze more stairwell transformations by providing a toolkit that will offer tips and resources for organizations wanting to improve their own stairwells.

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 The YWCA.

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. Funding from the KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge also supported this project.

To learn more, contact Jonathan Zarov,; (608) 354-0149 (608) 335-2783.

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