Children’s Museum Begins Slow Transformation

by Elizabeth Cooper

The interior of The Children's Museum in Utica on Thursday, September 17, 2015.

The interior of The Children’s Museum in Utica on Thursday, September 17, 2015.

Posted September 18, 2015 at 5:00 AM

UTICA

The Children’s Museum is getting back on track.

Its new executive director, Elizabeth Slocum Brando, has been on the job for six weeks, and the place is getting not only a new coat of paint, but a new vision and new energy as well.

She said she is excited about what can be done at the museum.

“There is an obligation to the children of the Mohawk Valley to have this grow into a thriving state-of-the-art children’s museum,” she said. “It’s just the power of the possibilities that can happen here and the potential of what can happen here.”

The positive news is a major turnaround for the museum, which was closed for more than a year as it worked to right a slew of codes violations. The museum had faced a tumultuous period in which some unusual financial choices came to light, though no criminal charges were brought.

Brando replaces former Executive Director Marlene Brown, who retired earlier this year.

 Elizabeth Slocum Blando, Executive Director of the Children's Museum in Utica, sits for a portrait on Thursday, September 17, 2015.

Elizabeth Slocum Blando, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum in Utica, sits for a portrait on Thursday, September 17, 2015.

“After what we have gone through, I think the museum deserves a special person,” said board Chairwoman Celia Domser. “I think we have found that special person to take us into the future.”

Already, Brando is revamping the main floor exhibits where children can play in facsimile stores and other community spaces. They are going to be “bigger, better and more robust,” she said.

Home Depot has donated time and materials to create a mini Home Depot for children to play in, she said.

And that’s only the beginning.

Among her top goals:

  • Clean the place up — literally and figuratively.                “Parents will forgive some tired, outdated exhibits if the space is clean for your child to play in,” she said. “There were dirty areas and parts of the museum that needed to be cleaned.”  That includes a fresh coat of paint in key areas.
  • Expand museum hours.“You need to be open at appropriate hours so working families can come and visit,” she said.

Currently, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but Brando wants to be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with even longer hours on Thursdays.

The change would cost the museum about $10,000 in the first year, but it will be worth it, Brando said. If the museum is open more and at better times, visitation will rise, and so will revenue, she said. She’s hoping a donor will step up to help.

  • As soon as possible, new exhibits will be constructed.

 “Obviously, we need to bring in more hands-on interactive exhibits,” Brando said. “There is a lot to be done.”

She already is planning to make a Butterfly Alley, where children can put on wings and pretend to fly, or pretend to be lady bugs. Such an exhibit would tie in well with educational content about the natural world, she said.
She also is working to bring in traveling educational exhibits from other museums.

Brando has been meeting with everyone she can to forge the ties she will need to make her vision a reality. She already is in conversations with Sculpture Space about partnering to offer an art program, and has spoken with Utica schools about how she can better serve them.

She also has met with potential donors, including Community Foundation Executive Director Alicia Dicks, who said her organization is “receptive to supporting them as they make steps to reopen and re-engage in the community, but we are definitely doing it conservatively.”

Dicks said she wants to make sure that Brando is staying, and that she is able to carry through on her initial plans before making a stronger commitment.

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