The Rabbit hOle, the interactive and immersive museum of children’s literature announced almost five years ago by former indie booksellers Pete Cowdin and Deb Pettid, is close to completion in a 165,000-square-foot warehouse in North Kansas City, Mo. But like so many other museums and other entities around the world, the organization has had to pivot in response to the pandemic. The museum’s opening—previously scheduled for late 2020—has been postponed to late summer/early fall 2021.
“We’re not where we thought we’d be right now, but who is?” Cowdin told PW. “The challenges have been heavy, but honestly I’ve never been more grateful. Our staff is intact, and we’re growing again. The project is advancing. Exhibits are coming to life. Covid gave us pause, but it also gave us more time to make a better museum.”
After raising to date $10 million in its $14 million capital campaign, the Rabbit hOle recently suspended that campaign until early spring 2021 while launching an operating campaign, “Good Things Come.” The goal of “Good Things Come” is to raise $300,000 before the holidays for the purpose of hiring 10–12 more artists and exhibit designers to the staff, which currently has 13 full-time employees, five of whom are designers, fabricators, and artists. There are also four contract employees. To date Rabbit hOle has raised $100,000 of its goal.
“We had just finished two of the three phases of the building when the pandemic hit,” said Lindsey Foat, Rabbit hOle’s content and communications director, explaining that the building just needs “cosmetic” work done before doors open. “Pete and Deb decided to take funds and focus energy on hiring and keeping staff and fast-tracking exhibit creation.”
Foat maintains that the staff is following safety protocols, wearing masks and practicing social distancing while inside the building. “It’s a big building, so there’s plenty of space for us all to spread out,” she said.
Foat noted that, unlike other museums, Rabbit hOle is making all of its exhibits in-house, rather than buying them from other organizations. “We’re contributing to the creative community in Kansas City by hiring artists to do work in-house,” Foat said, describing the work of interpreting both classic and contemporary children’s books and then building three-dimensional exhibits as involving “tons of problem solving.”
The Rabbit hOle recently received a shout-out during the Kerlan Award ceremony, which this year consisted of a conversation between Kerlan Collection curator Lisa Von Drasek and the 2020 recipient, Jon Scieszka. A member of the Rabbit hOle’s governing board, Scieszka praised Cowdin and Pettid, who owned the Reading Reptile bookstore in Kansas City for 28 years, for being so knowledgeable about children’s literature.
“They’re such kids’ book historians and creators,” he added. “And now they’ve built an entire museum. They’ve got a monster building and there’s exhibits and galleries. It legitimizes children’s books. It’s going to be a game changer. It’s going to be a place where kids can come with their parents and see stuff like Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel or Jon Klassen’s bear. It’s a seven-foot tall bear and you open his stomach. Sometimes the rabbit’s there, and sometimes it’s not.”