Proper etiquette at most museums and art galleries includes rules like not touching what is on display and keeping voices at a low volume. However, the Sanford Museum and Planetarium in Cherokee, Iowa, is the quite the opposite.
“There is nothing I love more than hearing the gasps and excitement from our younger visitors,” said Linda Burkhart, director and an employee of the organization for more than 40 years. “Sometimes teachers or parents will worry about them being too noisy, but the excitement is always welcoming and one of the best parts of my job.”
Since opening its doors in 1951, more than a million visitors have enjoyed the unique, family-friendly venue. A trust fund established by the late Mrs. W. A. Sanford of Cherokee, the Sanford Museum and Planetarium brings archaeology, art, astronomy and history to Northwest Iowa — all at no cost.
“The wonderful thing about our museum and planetarium is it is free and open to the public,” said Burkhart. “Mrs. Sanford made it clear in her will that she wanted it that way, and we continue to honor her wishes by not charging entrance fees for any of our programs.”
No matter the visitor’s age, the museum and planetarium offer a variety of exhibits, demonstrations, programs and activities that will have them sharing sounds of joy and enthusiasm — without the worry of being scolded.
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Featuring one of the largest archeological collections in the state, the pre-history of Northwest Iowa is told through this interactive exhibit. Visitors can also learn about pre-historic cultures that lived in Iowa more than 8,500 years ago. A staff archeologist is on hand and leads monthly programs that showcase archaeological work being done in Northwest Iowa and throughout our state.
The exhibits at Sanford Museum showcase everything from astronomy to archaeology. Displays in the East Gallery, including work from artists throughout Iowa, tell the story of Cherokee’s development as well as the triumphs and struggles of the early settlers. The West Gallery houses temporary exhibits that change throughout the year. The Spring exhibit, built by the museum staff, is a particularly interactive exhibit great for children. The Sanford Room features historic artifacts in a mid-nineteenth century style furnished setting.
One of only three open to the public in Iowa, the planetarium is more than just looking at stars. Featuring the new Spitz SciDome IQ 2400 projector, visitors can travel to anywhere in the universe, get an inside look into the human body, or be transported around the world to see the geological makeup or buildings in a community thousands of miles away.
Digital featured films are also shown in the planetarium. This year, visitors will be able to view “The Dynamic Earth,” a 24-minute show exploring the inner workings of Earth’s great life support system: the global climate. “Dinosaurs at Dusk,” a 44-minute film that takes viewers back in time to meet the ancestors of modern-day birds, will be the second film available, with showings starting in June.
The Sanford Museum and Planetarium offers a variety of educational programs for groups about astronomy, geology, history and natural history. Emphasizing a hands-on experience, the educational programs include sessions on topics like dinosaurs, oceans, the Civil War, animal adaptations, fossils and many more. Lasting anywhere between 45 minutes to one hour, appointments are available from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays at least one month in advance.
Meet the Scientist Day
Interactive and fun for the entire family, once a year the museum hosts nearly 200 students and eight scientists for Meet the Scientist Day. Scientists ranging from a biologist to soils scientist and dentists bring in equipment and teach students about the various aspects of their field.