Northwest Arkansas, the home to retail giant Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, continues to grow as an art and culture destination with the July 15 opening of the $21.5 million Scott Family Amazeum. According to Marketing Manager Dana Engelbert, "One of the big things that makes this place special is that it was driven by community. The community expressed a need for a kids museum, and this has been 10 years in the making. There really is a big community spirit embodied in this place."
The facility is a 50,000-square foot-children’s wonderland that offers residents and visitors a plethora of hands-on activities and interactive exhibits. "Amazeum is completely interactive," Engelbert said."You don't just come to be entertained and look at stuff; you are part of it. We have an art studio where guests paint on a glass wall. There are guests connecting circuit blocks to make lights turn on. It's all about what you do with things."
Amazeum touches on the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), culture, social studies and language, with exhibits including:
- Hershey’s Lab: Inspired by the Chocolate Lab at the Hershey Story, this is the only Hershey’s Lab outside of the company’s headquarters in Pennsylvania. It offers a deep learning opportunity into the world of chocolate.
- Nickelodeon Gallery: The Nickelodeon play lab allows children to interact with familiar characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants, and immerse themselves in the Nickelodeon inspired environment.
- 3M Tinkering Hub: The 3M Hub is a space for active engagement in investigations of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM). Children can explore materials, investigate technology and create works of art.
- Other exhibits include a mock neighborhood market sponsored by Walmart, a water play center, an indoor climbable tree canopy, a pioneer-style cabin and farm, a child-scaled distribution center sponsored by General Mills and much more. Outside the museum doors, an acre of land allows for outdoor learning and exploration.
Visitors to the Nature Valley Water Amazements exhibit might get wet, but dryers are available. Still, though, the Amazeum recommends bringing an extra set of clothes.
Free parking is available at the Amazeum. The onsite Zing Cafe is open during museum hours, offering light snacks and beverages. Visitors may bring theirr own food, but the Amazeum cannot store it.
"One of our guiding principals is to be true, authentic and real," Engelbert said. "Kids should have real things to play with. Also, this place should reflect the region. And because this is the headquarters for Walmart, there is a market sponsored by Walmart. Markets in general are familiar to kids, but here they are in charge and are doing things, not just watching."
Another exhibit, the General Mills Lift Load and Haul, is a logstics-based exhibit. Engelbert said children send foam boxes down conveyor belts and slides and scan the boxes. "There's even a real Walmart truck in our building. Walmart donated the truck and built the trailor to our custom specs."
To Englebert, one of the most import aspects of the Amazeum is that people can relate to it. "If we are not authentic to to where we are, it won't ring true to folks."
The Amazeum is the latest in a series of lifestyle offerings in the region and joins other lifestyle amenities that include:
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, established in 2011, is the centerpiece to a thriving arts and cultural scene in Bentonville, financed largely by Walmart heiress Alice Walton.
The Razorback Regional Greenway, a 36-mile bike-pedestrian trail running through seven Northwest Arkansas cities opened in May. The region is also home to hundreds of miles of trails in more than a dozen cities spanning the scenic landscape of the Ozark Mountains and is a hotbed of developing mountain-bike trail systems and established road cycling routes.
In 2014, the region celebrated the opening of the Walmart AMP, an outdoor music venue that so far this summer has played host to music superstars including the Dave Matthews Band, Chicago, Third Eye Blind and Brantley Gilbert.