Rebounding Children’s Museum Must Keep Up Momentum

Sept 2015 painting Children's Museum with Home Depot

Volunteers with Home Depot paint walls and clean windows in the Playspace area at the Children’s Museum in Utica earlier this month. New Executive Director Elizabeth Slocum Brando said that “It’s magical. We’re grateful for the community support.” Volunteers also planned to paint the Birthday Party room, and patch and paint areas on the third floor.

Posted Sep. 25, 2015 at 3:15 AM
Updated Sep 25, 2015 at 7:59 AM

Elizabeth Slocum Brando, new executive director of the Children’s Museum in Utica, already has taken several giant steps in the effort to restore community confidence in what is truly a regional asset.

The goal now is to maintain the momentum and grow it.

The Children’s Museum has gone through some difficult times in recent years, but finally appears to be on track. After being closed for nearly a year while fire and codes issues were addressed, the museum reopened in April. Marlene Brown, the former executive director, retired in March.

Brando, who has 16 years of experience in nonprofit leadership, took over in August and brings an enthusiasm to the job that includes a vision for future growth. One goal is to expand museum hours — sorely needed — so that working families can visit. Current 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. hours Tuesday through Saturday are pretty restrictive; Brando is proposing the museum be open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday with even longer hours on Thursdays.

Simple cosmetic changes can help, too. Brando has already had some key play areas cleaned and painted and plans to revamp the main floor exhibits to make them “bigger, better and more robust.” And reaching out to places like Sculpture Space and the Utica schools about creating partnerships can help build the mission.

Some other thoughts:

— Continue to pursue corporate sponsorships for exhibits. Home Depot has donated time and materials to create a mini-Home Depot where children can play. Investing in our children is a noble mission frequently embraced by businesses and corporations. Similar museums survive and thrive thanks to corporate sponsorships. Brando has met with some potential donors, including the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties.

— Push for volunteers. Events and organizations with limited financial resources can become thriving operations with a good stable of volunteers. Witness the Boilermaker Road Race and America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk. Our community is loaded with generous people whose talents could be an asset to the Children’s Museum. Whether painting or plastering or performing a musical program, volunteers are part of any success story.

— Have an open house. Clearly the museum needs to charge admission to help sustain itself, but opening the doors free of charge for a day to let folks see what’s happening here could be a good marketing tool. Get some local vendors to set up nearby and make it a fun-filled day of activity. Visitors will return and won’t mind paying admission if they think they’re getting their money’s worth.