Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM) is somewhat of a family affair for Lake Forest’s Jeff Perry, EY’s Global Client Service Partner and chairman of the board of directors for the museum.
“My wife Dena and I came to know Chicago Children’s Museum as parents,” he says. “We loved taking our three children there when they were small. Now, my two teenage sons volunteer at the museum during the summer.”
Located at the century-old Navy Pier since 1995, Chicago Children’s Museum is now one of the city’s top cultural attractions and among the most visited children’s museums in the country. CCM is a place where families and caregivers with infants and children are encouraged to create, explore, and discover together through play. The museum features vibrant, interactive exhibits and activities that provide sensory experiences and engaging educational content focusing on literacy, science, math, visual and performing arts, and health. A place of imagination, fun, and learning—the museum truly caters to children. Youngsters entering its doors can explore a dinosaur dig, a kid-friendly cityscape, an art studio, or a maker’s space, called Tinkering Lab.
A board member for the last 13 years, Perry has worked to advance CCM’s mission of meaningful play and to ensure that anyone who wants to experience the museum has the chance to do so. “We have more than 400,000 visitors to the museum each year,” Perry explains. “One third of those visitors come to us for free or at a reduced rate. For many of these people, this is their first exposure to a cultural institution. It might even be the first time that some families and caregivers have truly learned through play with their children. Our research supports that exposure to a place like CCM can positively change the trajectory of a child’s life.”
CCM offers free admission for all on Thursday evenings and children are also admitted for free the first Sunday of every month. Any Illinois family that qualifies for state food assistance is also eligible for reduced admission as well.
“CCM was the first museum in the state of Illinois to join the Museums for All initiative,” Perry says. “This is what we stand for. I am really proud that we made that commitment and that other institutions like The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Museum of Science and Industry are following our example.”
CCM offers a mix of permanent and rotating exhibits that have been created based on how children learn and develop. CCM’s Forts exhibit is open through September 17 (with Very Eric Carle to open soon after on September 30.) In essence, Forts is your living room reimagined as a fort-building paradise complete with hooks, knobs, upside down tables, countless blankets and pillows, and more.
“What we do at CCM extends far beyond our walls,” Perry adds. “As a board, we constantly come back to the idea of what kind of social impact would be possible if our programming was truly available to all families who were interested. This keeps us very engaged and committed to moving forward with making sure that there is access for all.” In addition to Perry, there are a number of board members from Chicago’s North Shore, including Blakely Bundy—Winnetka, Todd Lippman—Glencoe, Tom Zidar—Glenview, Laura Dunne—Glenview, and former board member Prue Beidler—Lake Forest.
To coincide with the Museums for All initiative, CCM also offers Play for All for children with disabilities and their caregivers. Held the second Saturday of every month, CCM opens one hour early, at 9 a.m., for pre-registered guests. The first 250 visitors to register receive free admission.
But hand-in-hand with granting free or discounted access is having to cover the costs of their programming, as well as the multimillion-dollar facility renovations that are currently underway at CCM. “We are re-imagining the museum and updating the building’s exterior,” says Perry. “We will continue to be open for business during construction, focused on making sure our visitor experience is as exceptional as always. Construction will be completed in the summer of 2018.”
A primary fundraising mode for Chicago Children’s Museum is its annual gala. This year, it will be held on Saturday, November 4 in the Aon Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier. Board members Thomas Harmening of KPMG LLP and Jennifer Vachon of Blue Cross Blue Shield Association are co-chairing the event.
“I am very passionate about the gala,” says Perry. “This year the theme is ‘Make. Believe,’ a celebration of childhood creativity. Our hope is to showcase the heart and imagination of CCM, recognizing all we do for all children. This is core to our mission at the museum and I believe it will resonate with our donors. Our gala is truly a great event. Hands down, we have among the best live and silent auctions in the city.” Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are still available on the museum’s website.
Although expectations are high for CCM’s board to continue at its current momentum, Perry has embraced the challenge. “I’m the son of a Baptist minister. Sharing my gifts to have a positive impact on society is a real driver for me.”
Chicago Children’s Museum is located at 700 E. Grand Avenue in Chicago, 312-527-1000, chicagochildrensmuseum.org.