A museum’s impact

Michael Phillips

Written  by Liam Ulland-Joy,  Annabella Martinson, with contributions by Eleanor Grosvenor,  and Anja McBride.

When people are young there are many things that shape the adults they will become. It is often the little things that have the biggest impact; family, a favorite meal, favorite activities and the places people spent their time as a youth.

Michael Phillips, 33, who currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but who grew up in Marquette, fondly remembers the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum and how his involvement in the many youth driven programs the museum offered helped shape the person he is today. Phillips first became involved with the museum when he was in sixth grade. Phillips was one of the youth who helped design some of the museum’s exhibits as part of the Design-o-saurus program.

“I was involved in some workshops, although I didn’t physically do anything to build the exhibits, but I was involved in some workshops and provided some input, especially on the later exhibit halls, like the Incredible Journey,” Phillips said.

Phillips enjoyed the challenges of designing an exhibit.

“The process was very cool. We had a lot of thoughtful facilitators that thought about different ways kids could provide their input on what they thought would be cool,” Phillips said, adding the ability to see a thought brought to life with a physical exhibit was a special thing to witness.

In the mid ’90s, before 8-18 Media was the youth journalism program at the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum, there was a youth journalism program called Children’s Express. A national program with similar chapters across the United States, London and Japan, Phillips was a participant.

“I was involved with a number of different stories, starting as a reporter and then became an editor, and I actually served as senior editor my last year or two of high school. I had the opportunity to play a bunch of different roles,” he said.

Because the program was national, Phillips had the opportunity to not only cover local stories, but also work with kids from other Children’s Express bureaus around the country.

“In particular the political conventions were stories that we worked on with other Children’s Express kids and we also used the Children’s Express training materials and philosophy that had been in place and was developed by a guy named Bob Clampett who started the program,” Phillips said. “Unfortunately, for a number of reasons Children’s Express didn’t continue forward and we shifted and got involved with 8-18 Media at the museum, so I think a lot of the ideas from Children’s Express we tried to keep using going forward.”

Phillips said his experiences at the museum helped create a foundation of valuable skills that carried into adulthood.

“Growing up in the U.P., I think there is  maybe a limited number of really thoughtful programs for kids. I think we have some great programs and some great schools, a lot of really positive community members, but I think there’s just nothing like what has been created at the children’s museum,” Phillips said. “Specifically for me, I think the opportunity to really learn about topics and pursue interests, … start building leadership skills really early in life (was important). I was able to sit on the children’s museum board as a youth board member and go on some really interesting stories with Children’s Express where I got to speak to adults and ask them on a very direct level what they were doing to take into account kids’ perspectives.

Phillips said these experiences helped him grow more confident as a young person.

“I went off to college and when I started my first job, I think those kinds of confidence building and leadership skills, really learning and having ambition to learn, those were all things that I took away from the museum,” he said. “I also made a lot of great relationships with other kids and adults in the community that I’ve kept throughout life, so for me that’s always been friends and informal mentors that have continued to help me and have been a part of my life for a long time.”

Not only did the museum impact his own life, but Phillips also said the museum’s impact reaches out into the entirety of the Marquette community.

“I think that the children’s museum has brought a really different level of energy and creativity to our downtown. It’s created another reason why people from across the U.P. would want to visit Marquette and to spend time there, and even outside of the U.P. I think it’s created an environment where kids can really explore and grow in a major way and that kids are big part of the community,” Phillips said.

This year marks the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum’s 20th birthday, and Phillips still remembers the pure magic of some of the museum’s exhibits when it first opened.

“I think one of the more interesting memories is probably being involved in some of the grand opening events for the museum and seeing how the exhibits came to life,” he said. “You know, the first time I flushed myself down the giant toilet and walked through the bridge to the tree; I just thought it was the coolest thing ever, even though I was a little bit of an older kid at that point—I still just was amazed that someone could create that for people to actually touch, feel and jump on and everything.”

Phillips is all grown up now, with a family of his own, but who knows; maybe next time he comes to visit the museum he’ll bring his daughter and perhaps he’ll flush himself down the giant toilet, for old times sake.

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