The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert will reopen in December 2022 »Holtville Tribune
The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert opened its first exhibits in 1990, beginning its mission to engage and educate young children in the Coachella Valley. Over the next three decades, the Rancho Mirage Museum has won numerous awards and welcomed over a million visitors to interact with its distinct collection of exhibits and experiences.
Then came COVID-19.
After the museum was forced to close in March 2020, employees made a concerted effort to switch to virtual / online activities. As the lockdown dragged on, the museum’s board made the difficult decision to fire all staff.
It was around this time that Cindy Burreson became a member of the board and within months she was appointed CEO of the still-closed museum.
“I have always loved this place,” Burreson told the Independent. “I have two boys and our family has always loved the museum. I always thought of things (the museum) could do to make it more exciting. … So I joined the board last November, and in December we found the need for an interim executive director, as we didn’t have any staff at that time, and we needed someone to manage the day-to-day (operations). I volunteered to do it, because I was working part-time for my other job, and said I could do this part-time job too – to keep operations going, pay the bills and just keep an eye out on things.
Burreson said 85% of the museum’s pre-pandemic revenue came from “earned income” such as admission fees.
“Once we closed the doors due to the pandemic, we didn’t have these funds coming,” she said. “We thought: what can we do to diversify our sources of income so that we don’t find ourselves in this situation again? “
Burreson said the board decided to not only focus on fundraising, but also to “reimagine” the museum so that it can better serve the families and children of the valley.
“Our exhibitions have been there for a long time. They have stood the test of time longer than their expected lifespan, ”she said. “But more than a facelift, we had to step into the present day and reflect current technologies and things that are fashionable and interesting for children. So, working with the original company (creator of the show), I presented a vision to the board of directors, and we decided that was the direction in which we wanted to go.
“Of course, it would take even more fundraising to get there. I suggested to the board that in order to really make a difference, they needed to hire someone full time; me who works part time was not going to cut it.
Burreson threw her figurative hat in the ring and the board hired her as a full-time CEO.
“Currently I’m still the only staff member so I do all the kit and the caboodle here,” she says.
If all goes according to plan, the museum could reopen in late 2022. However, it will take a lot of money and work to get there.
“Right now I’m focusing on the $ 3 million for (the reinvention) of the first building,” Burreson said. “… Another thing we learned from our research is that there is not much (to do) for older children, middle and high school students. Now, in addition to just reinventing the museum, we want to expand our audience. So, the aim of buildings 2 and 3 will be to provide experiences for these older children so that they do not age (of our audience) at 8 or 9 years old, and to provide attractive services for these other ages. … But right now I’m really focusing on the $ 3 million. To do the three buildings, I would comfortably say (the cost would be) between $ 4-5 million.
Burreson said the community will need to step up efforts and offer support for the museum’s reopening at the end of 2022.
“This is why fundraising is so critical right now,” she said. “I’m determined to stick to this schedule because I want to be able to reopen in 2022. We all do. So to do this, we just finished the schematic designs. We are currently working on building 1. There will be over 40 new exhibits and experiences. Then we would move on to phases 2 and 3.… (building 1) would reopen in December 2022, and then we would start working on fundraising for the next phase.
Burreson and the Board of Trustees work with the museum’s original and continuing exhibition creation company, Hands On! Studio, on the new vision of the museum. It involves the creation of six new experience zones in the museum space, designated Explore, Express, Experiment, Move, Imagine and Dream.
“We’ve been working on this since I got here,” Burreson said. “With the company, we set up our fundraising program. We drew up the exhibition concept plan, and now we have completed the schematic designs, so now we know exactly what is going to be included in the first building.
Burreson said manufacturers work hard, and stay on budget.
“We are moving forward immediately,” she said. “We have a weekly call to keep moving the project forward. … I don’t want to stop, because if there is a pause in the timeline, it pushes back the opening date. So I’m just trying to fundraise like crazy to keep up with our payment and cash flow schedule and keep moving towards our ultimate goal.
As if those tasks weren’t enough to fill Burreson’s workdays, the museum has been running donation drives in conjunction with other nonprofits one Saturday a month since July. For this first, the museum joined forces with Centraide du Désert to collect more than 200 books for the Raising a Reader program. In August, more than 60 cases of water were collected for the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. In September, various items were collected for pediatric cancer patients assisted by Shay’s Warriors and Desi Strong.
“I created the Little Kids / Big Impact initiative because obviously we know we don’t serve our community like we normally would,” said Burreson. “And, because we’re going to be closed for (over) two years when we reopen, we still wanted to have a social impact. … I feel like it is our responsibility to help uplift and teach our future donors. It is an opportunity for caregivers and children to work together to make a difference in our community.
For more information visit cdmod.org.
(A Reimagining: The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, closed since March 2020, will reopen in December 2022 – if there is enough community support is a story by Kevin Fitzgerald of Coachella Valley Independent, Coachella Valley’s alternative news source. It is made available through the CalMatters network.)