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About
the GRPM

Mission

We exist to be a living monument of artifacts, ideas and stories told through exhibitions, events, and educational programming designed to inspire, motivate and celebrate our human bond. We enrich the lives of our community through experiences of the wider world in a uniquely Grand Rapids context.

Vision

To inspire passionate curiosity and a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Diversity, Inclusion & Accessibility

The Grand Rapids Public Museum respects, values and honors the unique attributes, characteristics and perspectives that make each person who they are. Diversity and Inclusion is gained from prioritizing both physical and cognitive accessibility to the broadest range of people in the communities we serve. We consider increased accessibility to be drivers of institutional excellence and knowledge for all, which will broaden the diversity of participation, thought and action. It is our aim, therefore, the expectation that our employees, users, partners, and key stakeholders embrace and reflect these core values to be inclusive of all.

Museum History

For nearly 170 years, the Grand Rapids Public Museum has been a source of inspiration and a place to cultivate curiosity, with a focus on history, science and culture. The Museum, at its core, is a learning intuition dedicated to accessibility and knowledge to all.

The Museum has a long history as an educational
resource in the community. Founded in 1854 as
the Grand Rapids Lyceum of Natural History, the
Museum’s first collections were the “Cabinets of
Curiosities” put together by important civic leaders
such as John Ball.

In 1868 the Lyceum merged with the Grand Rapids Scientific Club, a group of local high school students who contributed their youthful enthusiasm, and their growing collections of specimens, to the institution. This broader focus brought the Museum out of the parlors of gentlemen, and into the schools.

During the last decades of the 19th century, the Kent Scientific Institute was administered by the Board of Education, and the collections were displayed at Central High School.

By the beginning of the 20th century, it was clear that the growing Museum Collections needed a home of their own. In 1903, the Board of Education purchased the Howlett house at the corner of Jefferson and Washington Streets, a location that would become the Museum’s home for almost a century.

The “new” Museum was built during the Great Depression with funds from the Works Progress Administration of the Federal Government. The building itself was a radical departure from most contemporary museums, and was described by Museum Director Frank DuMond as “accessible as a dime store and friendly as your next door neighbor.”

The Grand Rapids Public Museum began experimenting with planetarium equipment in the early 1960s, and hired its first curator for the new technology in 1964. The planetarium was eventually named after Grand Rapids astronaut Roger B. Chaffee, who was killed in the Apollo I disaster on January 27, 1967.

In 1967 President Lyndon Johnson appointed a committee of museum directors from around the nation to create recommendations for the future of the museum field. The Grand Rapids Public Museum’s new Director, Weldon (Frank) Frankforter, was chosen as a member of this committee. One of the committee’s principal recommendations was to develop a nationwide accreditation program for museums. 

Frankforter volunteered his museum as the test case for the new accreditation process, and in 1971 the Grand Rapids Public Museum became the first museum in the nation to be accredited. Today, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is among the 3% of United States museums that have achieved accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.

The Museum’s current facility, the Van Andel Museum Center, opened in 1994 on the west bank of the Grand River in the heart of Downtown Grand Rapids, MI. It contains three floors of exhibits, the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, the Cook Carousel Pavilion, Meijer Theater, along with a cafe, and gift shop. 

In 2015 the Grand Rapids Public Museum School, a partnership school designed by the Museum, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, and Grand Valley State University, opened within the Van Andel Museum Center facility. The Museum High School opened in 2018, and is housed at the Museum’s previous location of 54 Jefferson.

The GRPM is supported by individuals, corporations, and the people of Kent County who approved a joint 10-year millage in 2016 with the John Ball Zoo. The millage covers core operational costs including the care of the 250,000 artifacts in the Collection, allows for facility improvements, and enhances our educational exhibits and programming.

As the Museum looks toward the future, it is planning an expansion focused on increased programming, new welcoming, retail and dining spaces, and enhanced access to the Grand River for all – all part of our ongoing effort to be a universally accessible institution, reflective of the community.

Museum Sites

The GRPM’s main facility is the Van Andel Museum Center located in downtown Grand Rapids.

In addition to the Van Andel Museum Center, the GRPM also manages a series of additional sites in and around Grand Rapids.

Community Archives &
Research Center

223 Washington Street SE. The Community Archives and Re- search Center is a collaborative support facility which houses the historical document and artifact collections of the Grand Rapids Public Museum as well as the Grand Rapids City Archives and Record Center, and many Kent County records. Access by appointment or reserved (paid) tour, please email.

The Mounds

The Mounds are a 55 acre national historical landmark and one of only a few surviving Hopewellian burial mound groups that were once present in the lower Grand River Valley and the only one of which the mounds themselves are still in exis- tence. Originally consisting of 17 burial mounds, it is located on a flood plain of the Grand River a short distance south of the city limits of Grand Rapids. The historical significance of this site was recognized in 1957 when it was listed on the Michigan Register of Historic Sites, and then again in 1965 when it was designated as a national historic landmark, and then listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Museum is currently working with community input to develop future plans for respectful preservation of and educational access to the site. Until this important work is completed, all scientific studies throughout the entire Mounds and its related cultural resources collections will be restricted.

Calkins Law Office

Corner of Washington and State Streets. The Calkins Law Office (1836) is the oldest frame building in the Grand River Valley. This small Greek Revival building is located at the corner of Washington and State Street in southeast Grand Rapids. It was moved to its current location in 1971 and restored in celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976. Access limited to outside only at this time.

James C. Veen
Observatory

3308 Kissing Rock Avenue SE, Lowell. The Grand Rapids Am- ateur Astronomical Association’s James C. Veen Observatory is an astronomical education and research center housing several fully equipped telescopes and support facilities. The Grand Rapids Public Museum collaborates with the GRAAA in presenting Veen Observatory Public Nights, and provides ongoing financial and administrative support. Public viewing nights scheduled through the Spring, Summer and Fall, visit graaa.org for details.

Voigt House

115 College Ave SE. The (1895). Voigt House, carriage house and grounds are situated in Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill Historic District, just east of downtown, and serve as a time capsule of the late Victorian period with intact original family furnishings. There is no public access at this time.

54 Jefferson

54 Jefferson Street. Completed in 1940 as the headquarters of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, this historic Art-Moderne, WPA-era building is now the home of the Grand Rapids Public Museum High School.

Closure Notice.

The Museum will be closed on Sunday, March 31 for the Easter Holiday. 

Carousel Update.

The Spillman Carousel is currently closed while we are undergoing riverfront construction. The Carousel will re-open Spring of 2025.

Carousel Update

The 1928 Spillman Carousel is closed while we undergo riverfront construction. The carousel will re-open in the Spring of 2025.