Q&A with Kidsquest’s Putter Bert

Putter Bert has been leading Bellevue’s KidsQuest Children’s Museum as its president and CEO for 20 years. She has a long history of working with children’s museums around the country — from Boston to New Hampshire, to Arkansas and Tacoma.

“Children’s museums are places where children learn through play and exploration in environments designed just for them,” Bert said. “Reflecting their diverse communities, children’s museums create playful, interactive learning experiences. In an increasingly complex world, children’s museums provide a place where all kids can learn through play with the caring adults in their lives.”

For the past 20 years, KidsQuest in Bellevue has grown tremendously. We talked to Bert about the museum, how it’s faring during the pandemic, and what’s next.

How has KidsQuest evolved since you first joined?

KidsQuest has grown from a small museum located in the Marketplace at Factoria to our new location in downtown Bellevue. In pre-COVID times, we were serving over 200,000 people annually, both in the museum and through our very cool outreach programs. We have an amazing team of people to help educate, play, and work with our community, children, and adults alike. The museum offers experiential exhibits that allow you to explore a myriad of places to learn and imagine, as well as classes and camp programs focusing on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).

How has KidsQuest pivoted to serve its community during COVID-19?

The KidsQuest Team didn’t skip a beat and went right to work. Our education team listened to the needs of our community through conversations with partners facilitated by Eastside Pathways — our collective impact leader. We, like many, created online content and quickly realized that what was missing was the real stuff — things that children can play with and learn with. Jamie Bonnett and AJ Curde created these amazing resource kits.

What have been some of the biggest challenges for KidsQuest?

About a year ago, we were really proud of our financial model. Sixty-five to 70 percent of our budget came from earned income — people walking through our doors, engaging in our programs, and celebrating their birthdays while playing on our climbing sculpture. While we are still proud of that model, it was a real blow not to hear the squeals of delight running through our halls anymore, and it turned our financials upside down. This continues to be a challenge to this day. Our leadership team made a commitment to ourselves, our Board of Directors, and to our community to do two things during this time: One, be community-facing with our programming, and two, be a sustainable organization. We are still committed to those values. I would be lying if I didn’t say that this keeps me up most nights. I worry for our staff and our community. KidsQuest Children’s Museum is not a nice-to-have; it is a must-have.

What has been the most rewarding thing about working with KidsQuest?

After 20 years, I get up every morning excited to go to work, to help lead our organization, and to change the world through play and the love of learning.

What’s something people might not know about KidsQuest?

KidsQuest is not just for children. I have the privilege of literally watching adults learn every day – I can see the gears turning. They’re learning about their children, and they learn about things that they had never imagined. Try putting a bar of Ivory soap on a paper plate, and put it in your microwave for one minute (it has to be Ivory). Let me know how it goes.

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