Children’s Museum Celebrates Year of Growth

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum celebrated a year of growth with the opening of two exhibits in June.  June 27, phase 1 of “Guardians of the Great Lakes” opened three of eleven displays.  June 30, “The Hatchery” opened – although drying paint and floor glue delayed guest use until July 2.

“The last year has been a busy year no matter how you look at it,” says Michael Long, Executive Director.  The trustee strategic plan included replacing three exhibits in 2014-15.  Four new exhibits were opened, with significant improvement to three others.

The Weather Station closed in July 2014 to be replaced with “Building Bridges” in September of 2014.  “ShorePrints” (an “unexpected” addition) opened in October/November of 2014.  Toddler Beach closed in January 2015 to be replaced by “Let’s Go Sailing” in February of 2015. The Art Nook moved to center stage in May 2015 to be replaced with “The Hatchery” in June 2015.  The Southwest galleries (including the Freighter, Garbage In/Out, the Sound Pole, the Ball Wall, and a climbing structure) closed for renovation on June 1 and reopened with a shortened Freighter, a moved and updated Ball Wall, and  Guardians of the Great Lakes on June 27, 2015.

Programming also changed significantly over the course of the year.  “Toddler Time” morphed to “Discover with Me.”  The new “Discover with Me” programming philosophy differed in that it was focused on caregivers as well as children and had a fixed developmental topic format. During the school year, the Museum added after-school science programming on a monthly basis in “Kaleidoscope.”  On weekends, the Museum experimented with collaborating with other organizations to offer programs.  Starting in the Summer of 2015, the Museum unveiled a whole new series of daily weekday programming including a mix of morning and afternoon sessions and extended format sessions.

Field trip offerings were completely rethought.  Program staff invested time and resources studying what schools were teaching, and then looking at the Museum’s exhibits to develop potential programming to reinforce those classroom lessons.  The new field trip offerings were released in the Spring of 2015.

The trustee strategic plan also called for rebuilding and reorganizing administrative systems and other office and staffing functions.

“While the Museum had systems in place, they were scattered.  There was work in progress moving towards a new central database but progress was stalled. By the end of the year, some of those systems had been combined resulting in new services to members like monthly membership renewal reminders and birthday card mailings,” said Long.

Fund raising took on a new look for 2014/15 with the introduction of two new events – Holidazzle in December 2014, and the Anchor Ball in May of 2015.  “Both events brought in more than they cost – which isn’t always normal for a first year event,” said Long.  After costs, Holidazzle raised $5,898.00 and Anchor Ball generated $9,308.00.

A third fund raiser is planned for September 11, 2015.

Museum President Matt Missias says “We’re going to take a shot at funding through a golf outing this Fall.  The event will be a round robin format with a target of 30 foursomes.”

Registration and sponsorship solicitation for the golf event will begin in July.

An improving economy also helped with admissions and donations in 2014/15.  As of May 31, Earned income was up by $181,427 with admissions up by 1894 guests.  If trends hold, the Museum will host just under 34,000 guests during 2014/15.  While not a record, it is the third highest attendance in the Museum’s 14 year history – surpassed only by attendance at the original Front Street location in the very early years.

Donations were down slightly. “Swingshift to the Stars” brought $21,854 to the Museum during the 2013/14 fiscal year.

“When you take the money through Swingshift in the last fiscal year out of the equation and look at 2014/15 donations, things look very different – the Museum actually comes out as receiving $19,865 more in donations in 2014/15,” Long said.

The strategic plan calls for continued change in 2015/16.  “What’s in the Bay” will be removed.  “Building Bridges”, the Lighthouse/Keeper’s Quarters and the Water Cycle will be re-examined and updated.  The Great Lakes Interactive Map will be relocated from the activity room into gallery space.  One new theme will also be developed.

Growth has even impacted the trustees in the form of “change.”  After 14 years, the board is transforming itself from a “working board” to a “governing board.”  The transformation process is being spearheaded by the executive committee which consists of Matt Missias-President, Dan Smith- Vice President, Secretary Kelly Mitchell and Treasurer Marissa Milliron.

“Transforming a board isn’t always the easiest process – it takes a LOT of work on the part of the trustees, self-restraint is especially challenging. Governing boards focus on setting and monitoring boundaries – working boards get into operational details.  In the long run, governing boards are key to the long term sustainability of an organization,” Missias said.

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service and registered as a charitable solicitor with the Michigan Attorney General.  As such, the Museum is authorized to issue receipts for use by donors who itemize deductions.