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NORMAL — The winds of change are blowing at Children's Discovery Museum.

The 101 E. Beaufort St. institution will overhaul its second floor this fall, adding a wind exhibit to open on Black Friday — the biggest in a series of changes under new Executive Director Beth Whisman.

"The science is at the heart of it, but when kids look out their window and see what's in their community, they have questions, and we can help answer those," Whisman told The Pantagraph of the exhibit, called "ImagineAir." "'Why do you see wind turbines in Central Illinois? Why do they look like that? What are they doing?' ... We want to help them piece all of that together."

The exhibit will replace the airmaze and several nearby pieces with an updated airmaze; a turbine test station where kids can build a small-scale wind farm and see how it works; a " force wall" that lets them see how a focused blast of air affects objects; and a "sink or float wall," which shows how air power counteracts gravity.

"You can experiment, so coming once, coming 10 times, you won't have the same experience, which is really important for a local museum," said Whisman. "It's what teachers are asking for. It's fun and educational."

The exhibit is expected to cost no more than $127,500, including $116,800 from the state of Illinois, $5,000 donated by EDP Renewables — the company building the Bright Stalk Wind Farm near Chenoa — and the rest from the Children's Discovery Museum Foundation, its fundraising arm.

"The foundation pays for the exhibits, and the town does the staff and the building," said Whisman. "It's been a great partnership over the years."

"ImagineAir" is the museum's first new exhibit since "Hello From Japan!", a temporary installation that visited from June to September 2016, but it's been in the works for years. The museum commissioned design concepts in 2014 while expecting a state grant that was finally delivered in this year's budget.

"This is going to be a short demolition because what's coming in is bigger than what's currently there," said Whisman. "We're talking about a couple weeks at the most to have some things blocked off."

Before that exhibit launches, the museum will roll out a change that will be more significant for many: its membership in "Museums for All," an initiative that helps low-income families get into museums with lower entry fees.

Interested families will need to go to the museum or meet with a representative off-site and prove need by sharing their Link card or WIC — women, infants and children — information. In exchange, they'll get a card for a year to show at the museum for $3 admission per person, up to six people.

That program is slated to launch locally on Worldwide Day of Play, a nationwide celebration CDM participates in annually. This year it's Sept. 29.

The museum is also offering free admission to up to four families per day through Bloomington Public Library and Normal Public Library. Each has a pair of family passes patrons can check out the way they would a book or movie.

Whisman said the biggest challenge she's faced since starting the job in February, however, is restocking the CDM Foundation board. That body, which handles strategic planning and fundraising, was down to five members this spring but now has 10.

"The board was doing a good job, but we weren't recruiting new members. ... It's important because without the foundation, there is no museum," she said. "Traditionally, it's a 15-member board, so ... I've got several (openings) I'm still working on."

Whisman encouraged those interested in serving to contact her at 309-433-3447 or

"I'm pretty proud to be a part of it and looking forward to serving," said Paul Scharnett, a Hudson resident and Francois Associates architect who joined the board last month. "(The museum) is symbolic of how important children are to this community."

Gina Mandros, who became board president this summer, said she's been pleasantly surprised by how quickly Whisman took to the job — "already it feels like she's been here six years" rather than six months, Mandros said — and how she's embraced a more fundraising-oriented board.

"We've taken some (former) board members, and they've formed an ad hoc committee to decide how to fund (changes to) the medical exhibit coming up," said Mandros. "It's a really exciting time to be involved."

Whisman said she's also settling in as the town's cultural arts manager, overseeing uptown events and the Normal Theater.

"2019 will be our 25th anniversary as a museum, and we're not ready to talk about our plans yet, but we're looking to the future. That's part of why it's so important to build up the foundation," Whisman said. "Stay tuned."

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh


Normal and McLean County Reporter

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