western maine children's museum--final report

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Results of a feasibility study on a children's museum being created in Western Maine

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  • A CHILDRENS MUSEUM IN WESTERN MAINE

    9/14/2013 Feasibility Study

    Written by Angela McLeod, MSW

    Edited by Jennifer Baker, M.S. Ed.

  • A Childrens Museum in Western Maine: Feasibility Study

    Page 1

    A Childrens Museum in Western Maine F E A S I B I L I T Y S T U D Y

    Contents

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ........................................................................................................ 2

    INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................... 2

    DEMOGRAPHICS ................................................................................................................. 4

    PROPOSED SERVICE ............................................................................................................ 5

    MARKET INFORMATION ..................................................................................................... 6

    REVENUE ............................................................................................................................. 7

    OPERATING COSTS ............................................................................................................. 8

    RECOMMENDATIONS .......................................................................................................... 9

    CONCLUSION .................................................................................................................... 10

    APPENDIX A: COMMUNITY SURVEY RESULTS .................................................................. 11

    APPENDIX B: STATE DEMOGRAPHICS .............................................................................. 13

    APPENDIX C: LOCAL DEMOGRAPHICS ............................................................................. 20

  • A Childrens Museum in Western Maine: Feasibility Study

    Page 2

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The goal of this report is to provide an overview of how childrens museums typically function in a community,

    to highlight the potential risks and benefits of starting one in Western Maine, and to give the reader an

    understanding of the financial implications of starting such a business locally. Information for this report was

    collected from a variety of sources including the state, federal government, Association of Childrens Museums,

    local experts, and other resources. Interviews were conducted with three small, regional childrens museums1.

    Additionally, the presidents of the boards of two local childrens museums that have since gone out of

    business2 were interviewed so that we might learn from their history. Information from regional childrens

    museums was gathered informally but specific numbers were corroborated with other sources (e.g. newspaper

    articles, newsletters, museum websites) whenever possible.

    This report finds that a childrens museum in Western Maine can be sustainable if a business model is adapted

    to address two particular concerns that would make this museum unique among regional museums. First, it

    would have lower projected attendance due to our rural composition, and these low numbers are not

    expected to be substantially buoyed by tourism. Second, we have a higher degree of children living in

    poverty so, to reflect this, admission prices would need to be lowered accordingly. Because of those

    operational challenges, this report suggests an alternative model: a part-time, weekend museum that shares a

    lease with a compatible business that occupies the space on a Monday-Friday basis. Although attendance

    projections for a full-time museum appear anemic, a part-time model that keeps the museum open at the

    busiest times is expected to be robust. Additionally, a compatible business that covers most or all of a site

    lease would help defray costs and keep admission prices low.

    INTRODUCTION

    The concept of a childrens museum is one that most of us are familiar withbright colors, levers to pull,

    structures to climb, and everywhere things to touch and explorebut this idea of a childrens museum being a

    place of hands-on learning only began to emerge in the 1960s. Though childrens museums have existed in

    the United States for over 100 years,3 it was during that decade that museums and their communities began

    to reimagine what a museum for children should look like. In the first half of the 20th century childrens

    museums brought together collections thought to have particular appeal to children; toys, technology and

    especially natural history were common themes,4 but otherwise childrens museums looked much like traditional

    museums with display cases to house and protect collections. Things began to change in 1964 when the

    director of the Boston Childrens Museum, Michael Spock,5 opened a new type of exhibit entitled Whats

    Inside? which contained giant, everyday objects that were cross-sectioned so that visitors could see inside

    them.6 Experimental exhibits like this began popping up in museums across the country and eventually

    1 White Mountain Childrens Museum in North Conway, Childrens Discovery Museum in Augusta, and Coastal Childrens Museum in Rockland 2 Dottie Adams from Kids World of Fun and Wonder in Rumford and Marcia White from Carrabassett Valley Childrens Museum 3 The Brooklyn Childrens Museum began in 1899 and the Boston Childrens Museum began in 1908. Both began with an emphasis on natural history exhibits. 4 LeBlanc, Suzanne. "The Slender Golden Thread, 100 Years Strong." Maher, Mary. Capturing the Vision: A Companion Volume. Washington, D.C.: Association of Children's Museums, 2001. 1-10. 5 Son of Boston pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock 6 Cross-sectioned objects: a baseball, a toilet, a toaster, and fresh gladiolas among others

  • A Childrens Museum in Western Maine: Feasibility Study

    Page 3

    became the hallmark of childrens museums around the world. The following have become widely recognized

    characteristics that distinguish childrens museums from traditional museums7:

    DIRECT, INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCES: you dont read about bubbles; you blow them

    LEARNING IN CONTEXT: small worlds are created with relevance to the childs world

    LEARNING IS DIRECTED BY CHILDREN: concentration and attention come and go naturally;

    learning does not stop or start at a particular time or in a particular order

    EXHIBITS ARE DESIGNED TO ELICIT AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE: joy, whimsy, surprise, pride,

    etc., help to make impacting and lasting memories

    It was exactly those types of characteristics that inspired me when I visited the Boston Childrens Museum with

    my son earlier this year. Instead of having to hover over him to make sure that he didnt injure himself or

    touch something that he wasnt supposed to, I could simply let him be the guide. Childrens museums are a

    place where kids can behave like kids. When done correctly, the exhibits are thoughtfully designed,

    engaging and durable. They also, happily, bring out the child in all of usthere were times when I asked for

    a few more minutes to explore an exhibit because I was so intrigued by it. It is a space that invites adults to

    model life-long learning.

    After my experience at the Boston Childrens Museum,8 I started to envision a potential childrens museum in

    Western Maine. The more I imagined it the more it seemed possible, so to gauge the rest of the communitys

    interest I released a survey via the dailybulldog.com on July 31, 2013.9 The results were incredibly

    enthusiastic and positive (appendix A). Out of 214 respondents, 176 stated that they were either very or

    extremely interested in a childrens museum being created locally. There were also 28 comments left on the

    dailybulldog.com site that were almost entirely supportive.

    Because of the energy and enthusiasm created from the dailybulldog.com article, I immediately created a

    Facebook page10 so that interested parties had a place to discuss, organize, and support ongoing efforts to

    see this idea come to fruition. As of the writing of this report, the Facebook page had reached 3942

    individuals in the United States, 245 of those individuals had become fans of the page, and 171 had

    engaged with the page (liking, commenting, or sharing content with others).

    A small workgroup of local women11 gathered on August 14, 2013, to discuss the project and divide tasks so

    that a feasibility study could be completed more expeditiously. As information was collected and the project

    appeared to be realistic, discussions turned to board creation since this will be a necessary step in

    incorporating as a non-profit organization.12 A board is currently being developed that will be comprised of

    approximately 1/3 educators, 1/3 business professionals and 1/3 other niche professionals and passionate

    community members. The board is expected to have between 12-15 members.

    7 Lewin-Benham, Ann. "Children's Museums: A Structure for Family Learning." Maher, Mary. Collective Vision: Starting and Sustaining a Children's Museum. Washington, D.C.: Association of Children's Museums, 1997. 8-13. 8 And also after having experienced a very long winter in 2013 with limited indoor entertainment options for children 9 http://www.dailybulldog.com/db/features/should-a-childrens-museum-open-here/ 10 www.facebook.com/westernmaineplay 11 Jennifer Baker, Jessica Lewis, Shelly Mo