The Putnam Museum & Science Center, 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport, continues to be in transition, helped by a major new grant from the state of Iowa.

Putnam president/CEO Rachael Mullins said Monday that the $900,000 Destination Iowa grant (announced March 10) is from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “We appreciate the vision of Governor Kim Reynolds for this investment in our state’s tourism infrastructure and the support of the leaders and staff of the IEDA,” Mullins said Monday.

Putnam president/CEO Rachael Mullins in the World Culture Gallery.

“The grant was also made possible by the city, tourism, and community leaders who supported us through the process. This is an exciting time of growth and progress for the Putnam Museum and Science Center and for our Quad Cities community,” she said.

The grant of $900,000 will contribute toward the continuing transformation of their historic facility into a museum of the modern era, which:

  • Contributes to the vibrant cultural landscape of the Quad Cities by celebrating our shared history, the Quad Cities experience, and our future as a region.
  • Invests in youth as the future of our community and the state of Iowa’s vitality.
  • Draws visitors and investment to our west end Davenport community, the Quad Cities region, and the state of Iowa as a tourist destination.
  • Positively projects Iowa’s image nationwide, promoting the Midwestern values of hard work, innovation, and kindness with guests from around the nation and the world who visit the Putnam every year.

“It is our honor to have been recognized for this important work, and we are committed to continued investment in the Putnam’s historic facility serving our Quad Cities community,” Mullins said. “Facility improvements in development impact the entire historic facility of the Putnam Museum and Science Center as well as its grounds.”

A new storytelling booth under construction at the Putnam’s new regional history exhibit Monday, March 13, 2023 (Bryan Bobb,

Some of the projects that the community and visitors will enjoy over the next several years include:

  • Galleries celebrating the history, innovation, and the material culture of the QC.
  • Experiences dedicated to the role of families in our lives.
  • Facility upgrades for education and the sciences.
  • Updated façade and visitor wayfinding throughout the museum.
  • Technology and infrastructure investments.

The new funding will be part of planned $7 million in broader facility improvements that are under the campaign “Putnam Reimagined.” The museum is well over halfway toward reaching the fundraising goal, Mullins said.

Mullins said the Putnam is over halfway in raising $7 million for the “Putnam Reimagined” campaign.

“This is a series of updates that are underway and upcoming at the museum,” she said Monday. Of those, the long-planned transformation of the regional history exhibit (formerly “River, Prairie and People”) is costing $700,000.

The Destination Iowa projects are aimed to be completed by the end of 2024, Mullins said.

“We have been blessed by many of our local funders – in particular are the family trusts,” she said. “The funds to date have been more in the kind of institutional range and plans are underway now to broaden that, especially with this large gift. So now we’re starting to work with some of our individual donors, to help us move forward and see some of the new things coming up.”

The Destination Iowa grant is a “great recognition of the impact of these improvements and of the Putnam in its long history, not only in our community, but as a regional destination and the impact that it has across the state,” Mullins said.

“One of the categories that we were recognized in with this award is that this project in particular positions us to bring national attention to the state of Iowa as a destination,” she said. “These projects really have that broader impact and profile across the museum industry, but also as a tourist destination with our hosting of the cruise lines and visitors from all over the country and many countries from around the world.”

The Putnam is at 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport.

Destination Iowa is a $100 million investment in quality of life and tourism attractions, a news release says. In recognition of the high interest in the program, Reynolds also announced an additional investment of $15 million to fund Destination Iowa applications from rural communities that did not receive grants in previous rounds.

In all, Destination Iowa awards were granted to 46 projects totaling $115 million that activated $480.2 million in total investment.

“Destination Iowa has inspired communities in all corners of the state to dream big about projects that will bolster quality of life and attract newcomers,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a release last Friday. “The demand is so high, especially in rural areas, that I’ve extended the program to help more rural communities realize those dreams.” 

New exhibit to open in April

The new regional history exhibit is expected to be unveiled on April 15, Mullins said.

“We’re very excited. There’s been a lot of support as an extraordinary amount of community engagement and feedback has occurred in the development of the content, which has been really exciting,” she said. “We’ve been on this path for well over a decade of really turning to our community in this, in a kind of co-curation role.”

Rachael Mullins is the Putnam’s president/CEO.

The updated local exhibit will “assure that this really reflects the broader story of us,” Mullins said. “So that’s really exciting and those partners have continued with us and are working with us now on final selection of some of the oral histories and exhibit content and activities that we can align with the exhibit.”

It will include some local oral histories, and have a storytelling booth where the public will have an opportunity to tell their own story for consideration in the Putnam archives.

“It may be that, that content will show up in the exhibit at some time as well,” Mullins said. “We’re really looking for sort of a story tradition to be a larger part of the Putnam experience for our visitors.”

In November 2021, she announced a $245,000 grant from the national Institute of Museum and Library Services for an ongoing community collaboration exploring regional history.

The grant — the only such one in the state of Iowa — provides $245,000 for community-based regional history projects, including a significant update to the Putnam’s regional history exhibit, “River, Prairie and People.” Over multiple years and phases, the Putnam will partner across the community to assure that the exhibit reflects the modern era, shared experience as Quad Citizens, and the rich cultural diversity of the community.

Among other Putnam updates will be an April dedication of new meteorites in a NASA-affiliated space gallery, she said.

“That’s a gallery that has a special place in our hearts and we have a wonderful collection of meteorites from the Planetary Studies Foundation,” Mullins said.

Personal satisfaction in progress

It’s exciting for her to be at the museum’s helm during this overhaul.

“Like a lot of our citizens, I grew up at the Putnam, so I remember the impact that it had on me,” she said. “My many years in community leadership, in particular, in public education, I’ve seen the impact of the Putnam on our youth and families.

“So it’s really exciting to be leading the organization into this modern era and getting the Putnam the recognition that it deserves across the state,” Mullins said. “It’s been challenging but also extraordinarily rewarding.”

The Putnam Giant Screen Theater will host the award-winning documentary, “The First Step,” on Wednesday, March 15.

“We want our visitors to experience something new and different every time they come, but we also want them to have a voice in what that experience is, be contributing to that story,” she said. “We live in extraordinary times of great significance. And so we’ve initiated a more formal approach to contemporary history collecting during this time; storytelling to make sure that we all have a voice in how future generations remember this time.”

“I also have a special appreciation for our local city and tourism leaders that really helped through this application period,” Mullins said. “We work very collaboratively with them in how to align this with the place making application. So this is a great recognition I think of Davenport and eastern Iowa as major leaders in the state. So it’s a very exciting time.”

The current fundraising campaign is the institution’s largest since the $14-million Giant Screen Theater opened (then an IMAX) in 2002.

One-night-only documentary

The Putnam will host a new documentary, “The First Step” (2021) featuring CNN’s Van Jones, on Wednesday, March 15 at 7 p.m., in the Giant Screen Theater.

In a divided America, Van Jones controversially works across party lines on landmark criminal justice reform and a more humane response to America’s addiction crisis, according to the film synopsis. Attempting to be a bridge builder in a time of extreme polarization takes him deep into the inner workings of a divisive administration, internal debates within both parties, and the lives of front-line activists fighting for their communities.

Facing fierce opposition from both political parties in a climate where bipartisanship has become a dirty word, Jones and his team enlist the support of justice-impacted individuals, faith leaders, grassroots activists and cultural figures — including Kim Kardashian — to pass legislation that would fix some broken aspects of the justice system and bring thousands of incarcerated people home early.

The bill’s champions immediately find themselves navigating a high-stakes game of political chess in Washington, D.C.

While trying to pass a bipartisan bill through a deeply polarized Congress, Jones is condemned by the right for his progressive beliefs — and by the left for working with conservatives. The film reveals an intimate portrait of an activist’s isolation and internal struggles, what it takes to make change in a divided nation, and everyday people in both political parties drawn into a historic fight for freedom and justice.

Tickets are available now, call 563-324-1933 to get yours.

Other Iowa grants

Other Destination Iowa grants approved for Davenport are:

A rendering of the planned Main Street Landing in downtown Davenport, with an illuminated Figge Art Museum at left.
  • The City of Davenport was awarded $9.6 million for three signature projects that combine art, architecture and play. The projects to receive funding include Main Street Landing, an all-season riverfront plaza for both recreation and events; technology enhancements to the lighting on the Davenport Skybridge; and creation of an evanescent light field at the Figge Art Museum (225 W. 2nd St.).
  • The Last Picture House in downtown Davenport (2nd and Iowa streets) received $600,000. The new two-screen movie theater, across from Bechtel Park and next to Half Nelson restaurant will be the home of first-run movies and independent films, exclusive events featuring actors alongside local filmmakers and film screenings. The space will also include a social lounge, cocktail bar, and a rooftop bar with another movie screen.

To learn more about Destination Iowa, visit its website HERE.