Children’s Discovery Museum is hiring staff ahead of possible reopening in May
Uptown Normal’s Children’s Discovery Museum tentatively plans to reopen on May 1, but there are plenty of moving parts that staff must take into account.
Executive Director Beth Whisman said staffing and building readiness were among the factors, but through surveys and outreach, the museum is looking to its members and the public for what to do In the coming months.
âWell, if you look at most of the small businesses that have been closed for long periods of time, it takes a while to get things back on line. We have been closed for over a year now. Even with the activities that we have been able to do outside the building, the building itself needs to be prepared, âsaid Whisman.
A new wave of COVID-19 cases will play a role in member comfort levels, Whisman added. Museum staff are confident in their protocols and are following what the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and CDC have demanded and requested, she said.
âIf we see a curve, even though it’s not our decision on how to press pause again, the people who come to visit us are really the ones making that decision themselves. Families have demonstrated this to us through the surveys we have conducted and the conversations we have had with our users. They’re the ones who help us set the pace, âsaid Whisman.
The museum has lost 90% of its staff in the past year and is in the process of recruiting new staff, which Whisman says is not easy.
âIt takes time to prepare. We know our plan and we have our protocols in place. We know what we want to do to be able to reopen, but there are still realities to get there that are going to take real time, âsaid Whisman.
She said the museum is going to have to open slowly and not anticipate the crowds because that level of comfort is just not there yet.
Whisman said the museum needs to navigate operations to make sure it doesn’t lose money on each opening day.
“So we’re going to start slowly with probable operating days Thursday through Sunday,” she said.
Whisman said there was no benefit to reopening too early since they’ve been closed for a year, and risking that just wouldn’t be wise.
âWe are in a hurry to reopen in a way that we want to be able to serve our community. We want to be able to serve our member families, who were waiting to use these memberships, but we are not going to reopen so quickly that we are not paying attention to this data, that we are not prepared for the staffing and for the protocols. Whisman said.
Museums in a critical place
Whissman said some smaller museums might choose to stay closed to save money, especially with small crowds and public health limits in place. The Children’s Discovery Museum is not in this position. However, Whisman said she hopes people realize the museums are in a critical location.
âWe haven’t really been able to receive the direct federal relief funding that many other organizations haveâ¦ both small businesses and nonprofit businesses,â Whisman said. âI really hope they will consider that museums are in a special situation and that we need the support of the community.â
Whisman said most museums, especially small ones, are likely going to have to go into debt to be able to successfully reopen because they don’t have the money going into what other sectors of the economy have seen.
âIf you look at the children’s museums in the state of Illinois, as we’re slowly starting to be able to reopen, you don’t see any opening at the moment. They are not. They’re not rushing to do it because they’ve lost so much money over the last year, âWhisman said.
Normal’s CDM is unique because it’s part of Normal Town, so Whisman said it’s not exactly in the same boat.
The new federal grant program for closed site operators includes more than $ 16 billion in closed site grants, which will be administered by the SBA’s disaster assistance office.
However, Whisman said the way it was written, most midsize and small museums will not receive any of that $ 16 billion.
âAt the federal level, the way funding works for museums, both public and private, is chartered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This charter allows direct operational funding of libraries. There is quite a bit of money going to libraries across the country. Museums are not allowed to receive funds for their operations. They are only allowed to receive funding for programming, âsaid Whisman.
Whisman said most of the private museums that get funding for programming can’t even use them because they’ve been closed and the running costs are too high.
âIt’s not the kind of relief small businesses see. It’s not the kind of relief other financial centers see, families see. I think that revealed a weakness that is museum infrastructure nationwide, âWhisman said.
Whisman said the CDM will host a virtual fundraiser, the 17th edition of Doctors in Concert, on April 17th.
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