Sam Dean had high hopes for the Scott Family Amazeum when it opened in 2015, and he has even bigger dreams eight years later.
Dean has been the executive director of the $21.5 million interactive children’s museum since it opened July 15, 2015, in Bentonville. Dean said the expectations were for the museum to receive 1 million visitors by this summer; instead, it took the museum just five years to hit that number.
The museum, located a stone’s throw from Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, has proved to be so popular that Dean expects the 2 millionth visitor by the summer of 2024.
“What isn’t happening at the Amazeum?” Dean asked rhetorically. “It’s a great time to be here. It has always been a great time to be here. We are getting ready. We are in the midst of growth.”
All that popularity sent the museum on a fundraising effort in order to expand the 55,000-SF facility’s footprint and offerings. Enter — again — former Walmart Inc. CEO Lee Scott and his family, which donated $10.35 million in mid-May in support of the museum that bears its name.
The Scott family’s financial and moral support since the museum was first conceived in 2006 was the driving force behind the museum’s branding in the family’s honor in the months before the Amazeum opened.
“We are ready to have some pretty big announcements over the next year,” Dean said. “The first one we are proud to be able to talk about is the wonderful gift from the Scott family. That will help us get started on what will be a series of awesome, big endeavors.”
The museum already has a plethora of family-friendly exhibits. One, the Hershey’s Lab, allows for a variety of experiments including those involving candy. Another, the 3M Tinkering Hub, is a workshop focusing on science, engineering, art and mathematics.
Easton Likness, 7, tries a water exhibit. (Michael Woods)
“The focus of the museum was built around this human interaction,” Dean said. “We have these great exhibits, but we have an incredible team that loves to connect deeply with people who come in. This place is built around exploration and relationships and making this place feel like a home.”
Outdoor Space a Focus
Dean said museum officials decided it was time to expand after in-depth discussions with members of the community.
He declined to elaborate on the museum’s specific plans but said most would be revealed in the coming year. Dean said one general goal is to make the museum’s outdoor space, which occupies 1 acre of the 5-acre lot, more robust. He said the Amazeum wants its outdoor space to be “equal if not more amazing” than what the inside exhibits.
“We will have to add physically to our space,” Dean said. “Our outdoor space has the ability to rethink and reimagine how we use that space. You will see both outdoor exhibits and building opportunities there. For our STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics] work for teens and adults, we have some ability to expand the physical footprint in a different way to open more room for us to do that kind of programming while keeping the wonderful program we have right now for kids and families.”
Dean said the museum now employs nearly 100 after starting with about 30 employees on opening day in 2015. Museum officials want to expand its programs to include activities for more age groups and those individuals who have a neurodivergency.
“We had a lot of requests for early childhood, which is part of the reason why we are making a big push for this expansion to create a more model early childhood environment,” Dean said. “We feel everyone should have access. To have access we need to try to meet people where they are and when they are. We know we will never be 100% where any of us want to be, but it is the journey together. The community is willing to roll up their sleeves and help us figure it out together.”