ICAN + UCM: The Perfect Partnership

What do you get when you cross a family-focused nonprofit organization with a children’s museum? The perfect partnership!

ICAN’s Main Street headquarters in Utica has been located directly across the street from the Utica Children’s Museum for over ten years.  During that time, it was only natural to take on the roll of a good neighbor –from participants in our ICAN programs enjoying time at the museum, to working on the Bagg’s Square Association together and even offering shared dumpster service.

In 2016/2017, a chance to deepen discussions about providing even more support to the museum presented itself. The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties was brought in early on and helped to facilitate connections for us with the New York Council of Non Profits (NYCON). The Foundation also provided multi-year funding for the effort.

Along the way, many asked how an agency (ICAN) that provides behavioral health services could possibly manage a Children’s Museum. The answer was in our vision – keeping families together. How better to keep families together than by helping one of the area’s biggest assets for children and families move forward? ICAN has supported children and families for over twenty years and it was within our mission to partner with an entity that provides joy, education and discovery to them. ICAN’s depth and expertise in leadership, staff and our many resources were also available to benefit the museum greatly.

In November 2017, ICAN (then Kids Oneida) announced a formal managed services contract with the Utica Children’s Museum. We would provide operational and administrative support along with development and marketing. We embarked on a successful two and a half years full of FUN events and experiences in a safe and clean environment with increased attendance numbers. With collaboration from both governing boards, we immediately dove into strategic discussions concerning the future of the museum.

The history of the Museum stretches back to 1963 when the doors were first opened in the basement of the Utica Public Library.  First known as the Junior Museum of Oneida County, the museum changed locations throughout the city of Utica a few times, as well as undergoing a few name changes.

In 1979, the Museum moved to Utica’s historic Bagg’s Square neighborhood at 311 Main Street.  In 2002, the name was changed to The Children’s Museum of History, Natural History, Science and Technology, although it has since been exclusively dubbed ‘The Utica Children’s Museum’.

Over 55 years later, The Utica Children’s Museum is now one of the oldest in the country. Although it might be one of the oldest, we have so much NEW that is to come. 

Over the past two and a half years we have worked diligently to clean and freshen up the building which consisted of four floors of exhibit space (plus an additional floor of storage). We observed the interaction of families, hosted many special events and found that the building, although historic and stately, wasn’t conducive for creating the highest impact of modern hands-on learning and exploration for our guests.

We are excited to make plans to continue the longstanding history and legacy of the Museum. On March 4, 2020, ICAN announced that the Children’s Museum will be moving to a new home on the corner of Memorial Parkway and Holland Avenue in South Utica – right in the heart of the city’s Parkway District.

The proximity to the Utica Zoo, the Parkway Recreation Center, the New York State Power Authority’s Visitor Center and Roscoe Conkling Park will help further define that area as the hub of recreation, learning and family activity.

The new facility will not only be more centrally located for those in our community and visitors from outside the area, but it will also rise to the level of interest and educational needs of the world we now live in. The new facility will be a Family Resource Center, where key family-centric programs of ICAN will be housed in the new space, creating great synergy and opportunity with the museum.

The unique relationship of a human services agency and a children’s museum, creating a facility that is multi-faceted and 100% family-centered has the industry watching with great curiosity. It truly will be the first of its kind in the country. We are proud and poised to be a trailblazer.

The response from the community on the news has been extremely positive. We appreciate your excitement, support and patience as we dive into planning this amazing, state-of-the-art project.

The creation of the new space will take approximately two years and we anticipate a Spring, 2022 opening. We are working on the creation of a Mobile Museum so that during those two years, the community will still be able to interact with us at events and in schools.

Please sign up for our email blasts and/or like us on Facebook to stay up-to-date with our progress and with Mobile Museum appearances throughout our community!

ICAN is honored to be able to be a part of the next chapter of the Utica Children’s Museum, ensuring its legacy and providing a space for children and families to have fun and thrive.

Steve Bulger

ICAN CEO/Executive Director