5 Ways Children’s Museums Have Said “We Can Do This”

We Can Do This logo for blog

Over the past five months, ACM partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the We Can Do This campaign to help increase the public confidence and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among families and children. In just a short time, ACM shared critical updates and campaign information with over 53,000 people through social media, member discussion forums, virtual calls with museum CEOs, and at our annual 2022 InterActivity conference.

In addition, children’s museums across the country supported these efforts by educating and sharing information about vaccines and the importance of getting loved ones and community members vaccinated with their audiences. Below are five ways children’s museums helped share the word about COVID-19 vaccines.

Displayed a 4-Panel Exhibit on Vaccines

Museums did what they do best—share it with an exhibition! Over 25 children’s museums signed up to print and display the 4-panel exhibit on vaccines and viruses created by ACM and HHS to help parents better understand vaccine safety and increase parental confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. Together, more than half of the participating museums reported the ability to reach nearly 401,000 people, while one museum that integrated the panels into its own exhibition reported over 13,500 viewers.

Shared about COVID-19 Vaccines on Social Media

Direct communications with community members were vital to the campaign. 13 children’s museums helped educate nearly 170,000 parents and caregivers on the importance of COVID-19 vaccines through dedicated social media posts, emails/e-newsletters, and vaccine-related information shared on their websites.

Hung COVID-19 Vaccine-Related Posters

In hallways, bathrooms, bulletin boards, and more, displaying COVID-19 vaccine-related posters was another way 11 museums encouraged close to 179,000 visitors, including parents and caregivers, to protect their children by getting them a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hosted Educational Health and Wellness Programs for Children

Some children’s museums saw the opportunity to host other health-related events like Teddy Bear Clinics, in which children role-played with their teddy bear “patient” during several stages of a healthcare visit. Facilitated by health care professionals, these clinics helped reduce fear and empower children by providing their chosen toy with the same treatments they would receive, such as COVID-19 vaccines.

Hosted or Supported COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics

Children’s museums have been busy serving their communities this year. Thirty-seven ACM member museums have reported hosting a vaccine-related program, 26 of which were vaccination clinics that served numerous families and children. Several other children’s museums plan to host or participate in vaccination clinics later this summer in an effort to get more parents, caregivers, and children protected against COVID-19.


If your children’s museum is interested in hosting a vaccine clinic, displaying the 4-panel exhibition on vaccines, or sharing more information about COVID-19 vaccines, you still can!

The We Can Do This website has up-to-date resources for getting the word out, guides for hosting your own vaccination clinic, and supplemental information for helping increase vaccine confidence among parents and caregivers. All resources are available in Spanish on the Spanish language site, JuntosSíPodemos. You can also contact Keni.Sturgeon@ChildrensMuseums.org at ACM for a copy of the 4-panel exhibition for your museum. Together, We Can Do This!

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

Museum Summer Camps and COVID Safety

Sample social posts from the We Can Do This Summer Camp Toolkit

It is finally summer with school out of session and camp activities in full swing! Museum camps are one of the best places for children to spend their summers investigating, learning, and growing in a safe and educational environment. A crucial element of a great camp experience is keeping parents and caregivers informed about your COVID-19 safety protocols and policies, including precautions they can take to protect their children from COVID-19.

As part of our partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we are sharing below some of the latest resources available for camp administrators from the We Can Do This public education campaign. From safety checklists to voluntary vaccination policies, these tools can support camp administrators who want to help increase confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among staff and campers. The toolkit and all assets are available in both English and Spanish.

Checklist for Staying Safe From COVID-19 at Summer Camp

When making up information packets for parents and caregivers, consider including this COVID-19 safety checklist to review as they prepare to send their child to camp. Getting children vaccinated, testing frequently, and staying home when sick are just some of the precautions that can help everyone have a safer camp experience.

Summer Camp Blog and Social Media Posts About COVID-19 Vaccines

In addition to sending pre-camp information packets, museums can continuously keep parents and caregivers informed about the availability of COVID-19 vaccines through digital communications.

Check out this example blog post for camp administrators to share on their website about how campers can protect themselves from COVID-19, plus social media posts targeted at parents and caregivers about the importance of keeping campers safe by getting them vaccinated.

Text Messages to Encourage Vaccination

Frequent communication is the key to educating parents and caregivers about the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of getting their children vaccinated. If you stay in touch with parents and caregivers via text, consider sending these messages as-is or as inspiration for your own draft messages to encourage them to get their child vaccinated before camp.

Voluntary Summer Camp Vaccination Model Policy

Depending on the state your museum is located in, your camp administrators may be able to implement a voluntary vaccination policy for staff and campers. This voluntary vaccination policy template highlights all the items your camp should cover including the effective date, purpose, scope, procedures, and who to reach out to with any questions.

Remember to check your state laws before putting any vaccine policy in place.

Resources to Host a Family Vaccination Clinic

If your museum is not offering a camp this year but is planning other summer events, consider hosting a vaccination clinic for children and families. Download a free copy of HHS’ clinic and vaccination-event toolkit, which features superhero-themed posters, stickers, coloring pages, and other materials to help make vaccination fun for everyone.

Camp is where children go to play, make friends, and create happy long-lasting memories. Museums and camp administrators can play their part by using the above resources to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of keeping children up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines in time for camp. Together we can ensure kids have a fun and memorable summer with minimal disruption from COVID-19.

Learn more about the We Can Do This campaign and ACMs partnership by visiting: www.ChildrensMuseums.org/covid-19.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

The Expanding Role of Virtual Programming in Children’s Museums

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 5.1, the first report in the fifth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

Volume 4 of the ACM Trends Report series, Museums in a Pandemic, reported findings from regularly conducted surveys by Knology and Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the children’s museum field. Museums closed their doors to the public in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. More than 70% of ACM member museums were offering virtual programming by June 2020. Last year, museums slowly began reopening for in-person visits and had reached 61% by March 2021. The Spring 2021 ACM COVID impact survey suggested that about two-thirds of museums (n = 43 out of 67) were interested in continuing to offer virtual programming or engaging with communities online even after pandemic restrictions lifted.

In October 2021, Knology and ACM launched the first in an annual series of discussion forums that aim to address emerging questions from the field. Each forum features a panel of external experts that share recent research that might be applicable to the work of children’s museum operations. Presentations are followed by breakout sessions where museum professionals can consider the implications of that research to their practice, and explore their perspectives on the theme more broadly.

Based on the results of the impact survey, this first discussion forum focused on virtual programming. It is important to note that by October 2021, when the discussion forum took place, 91% of ACM members had reopened for in-person activities. We invited leaders and educators from ACM members to share their perspective about virtual programming. A total of 39 leaders and educators from museums across the United States attended the discussion forum. They represented museums that had offered virtual programming during the pandemic, and museums that had not done so. For this conversation, we defined virtual or online programming as programming or exhibits that require at-home or on-the-go screen time. This definition of virtual programming included activity kits if they offered a virtual or online engagement component.

ACM Trends #5.1

For the October 2021 discussion forum, we invited four experts to present their research. ACM Trends Report 5.1 focuses on the discussions that followed those presentations. During those conversations, the attendees explored the role of virtual programming as part of their institutional missions and culture, as well as their impact assessments of that programming.

The forum discussions included meeting attendee polling, and a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) exercise with attendees based on their own experiences and institutions. This was followed by a general discussion about the future of virtual programming and possible needs to make that vision a reality.

Polling Results

We conducted live polling during the discussion forum, which helped to benchmark attendees’ opinions to support the discussion. These polls are not considered representative of the entire field. Rather, they represent the attendees’ perspectives.

Most attendees reported that they had either expanded or started virtual programming in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (n = 21). A little over half said that they planned to continue offering virtual programming in future (n = 16). We also asked museums to select the types of virtual programming they have done from a list generated from data gathered from the Spring 2021 COVID impact survey. The most common offering was take-home activity kits that included a live or pre-recorded virtual activity led by museum staff. This was followed by a virtual story time, and other pre-recorded and live videos on social media. Other activities that museums provided included free-play prompts, interactive games, and virtual museum tours.

SWOT Analysis Results

The SWOT exercise aimed to better understand museums’ experiences with and perceptions of virtual programming. We asked all attendees to participate whether they offered virtual programming or not so that we could get a mix of perspectives.


During the pandemic, many museum educators were tasked with filming virtual education programming for their institutions. As a result, museums invested in infrastructure and systems their staff needed to create and deliver these programs. This allowed museums to build up a library of virtual resources that they can provide to different audiences and share with other institutions. For example, one attendee said that, after participating in the museum’s virtual education programming, some parents of homeschooled children were interested in in-person learning experiences with their children at the museum.

Virtual programming has had other benefits for children’s museums, including increased accessibility. Many respondents said it helped make their programming more accessible to families. Some respondents also shared that the pandemic was an opportunity for their staff to develop new skills in support of virtual programming.

Lastly, many respondents said that working on virtual programming helped them strengthen existing partnerships, particularly with schools and educators. For example, one museum developed a website that showcases content from their exhibits, which they shared with local educators.


The limits of virtual programming meant the museums had to think creatively about how to engage with families in their communities. Feedback from museum staff and leadership indicated that some felt that switching to virtual programming took away many of the elements of play they curated for their in-person visitors. Some respondents indicated they struggled with creating programming because virtual learning pedagogy was unknown or unfamiliar to them. Museums also had to consider the trade-offs and benefits to children’s learning between pre-recorded and live virtual sessions.

Museum staff described challenges with developing the skills needed to provide virtual programming. Some staff described difficulties with forming connections online audiences. Not all museum educators were comfortable with presenting content in an online format. Because of these experiences, some museum staff wanted resources about best practices for providing programming in virtual environments.

Museums either released or furloughed on average between 40 – 55% of their staff (ACM Trends Report 4.12). We heard from several participants that as a result they lacked the time and resources to produce high quality virtual programming. Some museums chose not to produce any virtual programming. Also, a few museums charged a fee, which may have prevented some families from accessing their programming.


Several attendees said they needed resources to help them continue providing virtual programming. One suggestion was to develop a platform where museums can exchange curriculum, media assets, and other resources related to providing effective virtual programming. Some museums have already taken steps to begin sharing resources. For example, one attendee said their institution was working with a consortium of other museums in California to collaboratively develop five activity kits that include video components they would share equally as a resource. By pooling their resources and working collaboratively on the content, these museums created higher quality kits and videos for their communities, while limiting costs and burdens on museum resources.

Some museums described opportunities for continuing virtual programming in partnership with local schools. These partnerships help extend the museum experience beyond in-person interactions to include learning in other contexts. One museum, which created a website with lesson plans for educators during the pandemic, now works with the local teachers. They are now developing targeted field trips that have a classroom component and an in-person or virtual experience.


The primary threats to continuing virtual programming in children’s museums are time, energy, and return on investment given the variability in attendance. Creating virtual programming can be a strain on both staff capacity and museum resources. One museum leader said they would need to staff a department dedicated to virtual programming to continue providing this type of service. Another museum leader said their pandemic virtual programming was necessary, but likely beyond their means when the museum returned to full operations due to staffing and budget constraints.

Many attendees felt that the return on investment was not sufficient for staff to continue virtual programming at their institutions. Concerns included the lower revenue from virtual programming when compared to live in- person programming. A few mentioned they were redirecting resources from virtual programming back toward reopening activities. One attendee said their museum’s partnership with Amazon Affiliates had helped to reduce their spending on virtual programming and enabled them to provide free or low-cost activity kits to families. But most leaders said that continuing to provide this kind of programming may not be sustainable without additional sources of funding.

Another critical concern raised in this session was Zoom Fatigue, the sense that interacting on screens had become overwhelming for working families and school age children. Attendees observed that many parents and caregivers who were responsible for supporting their families and helping their children with formal online learning seemed less inclined to engage in additional virtual learning with museums.

Virtual Programming in the Future

During the pandemic, museums reimagined their operations and service, and this has affected the staff. As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, many museums have re- opened their doors to in-person visits. As of March 2022, 92% of ACM members globally are open the public (up from 91% when the discussion forum took place in October 2021). This has implications for the future of virtual programming in children’s museums. Museum staff shared their perspectives based on their experiences during the pandemic, and their thoughts on continuing to provide online content in future.

Museum staff said that virtual programming offered during the pandemic was most successful when it was done in partnership with local schools and educators. They also said that partnership was the most sustainable way to continue offering virtual programming in future. However, they noted that there was a lot less demand for virtual programming now that children’s museums and schools have re-opened for in-person activities.

Most attendees reported that they were re-assigning staff and resources from virtual programming back to their traditional in-person activities. Several mentioned the limited staff time available to keep offering virtual programming, even though they felt it was valuable extension of services. Some children’s museum staff reported developing a backlog of virtual content they could roll out slowly over time, but most had no plans to develop new virtual content once full operations resume.

Overall, attendees were reluctant to continue with virtual programming without financial sponsorship. They reported that the funding for virtual programming during COVID-19 restrictions came from grants, but even that was relatively minimal. They suggested that hiring additional staff who would be responsible for fundraising, planning and executing virtual programming might allow these programs to continue.

Key Takeaways

There are a few important takeaways from the responses to the polling questions and the outcomes of the SWOT exercise:

  • • Education was the primary focus for most virtual programming during the Many museums became education partners, providing content and space that could be used by both educators and parents;
  • • Virtual programming has helped museums support and serve new audiences in their communities;
  • • Some museums have formed partnerships with local schools and/or nearby children’s museums to collaborate on creating and providing virtual programming;
  • • Children’s museums would be open to an online exchange platform to help them build customized and branded virtual programming in collaboration with others;


  • • Museums said they would require additional funding or new revenue streams, staff, and training resources to continue providing virtual programming in future.

Flinner, K., Field, S., Voiklis, J., Thomas, U.G., & ACM Staff (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Personnel & Rebuilding Teams. ACM Trends 4(12). Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

Association of Children’s Museums. (2021, March 18) Reflecting on One Year of the Pandemic for Children’s Museums and the Communities They Serve. https://bit.ly/3jhxmJF

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

Museums in a Pandemic: Confidence in Meeting Operational Needs

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.14, the final report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

This is the final report in the Museums in a Pandemic volume of the ACM Trends Report series. Since March 2020, the ACM Trends Report team has tracked the impacts of the pandemic on children’s museums through surveys, conversations, and other data collected by ACM. This ACM Trends Report presents data from museums that responded to our Spring 2021 survey.

Throughout the pandemic, we collected data on children’s museum operations and what was vital to their survival. We benchmarked this information against 2018 fiscal year 990 data. We used these data because 2018 represents the last pre-pandemic fiscal year for all of the organizations in our sample set. This comparison helped us understand the pandemic’s impact on museum operations.

As the pandemic continued into 2021, children’s museums were balancing re- opening to the public with the continued need to focus on securing necessary funding to keep operations going. We documented ACM members’ fundraising efforts in the early stages of the pandemic (ACM Trends #4.2 and #4.7).

By Spring 2021 many museums were welcoming visitors back into their spaces, with new safety protocols in place and varying capacity restrictions. Museums rely on these patrons to sustain operations. When we reviewed 2018 990 financial data from 218 museums in the ACM member network, our analysis showed that the median institution (regardless of size) relies on program services income (this includes income derived from admissions, events, and other general operational activities) for roughly 45% of its total income. Attendance directly impacts how museums balance income and expenses. By the time of this survey in Spring 2021, the numbers of visitors to the museums had not returned to pre-pandemic levels. This dip continues to impact children’s museums’ income.

ACM Trends #4.14


To track how the field’s attendance had changed throughout the pandemic, we captured monthly total attendance numbers from March 2019 to March 2021. Sixty-two museums responded to this portion of our Spring 2021 survey. From this data set, we know that the average museum was open to in-person visitors for 34% of the total days during the pandemic’s first year than the year prior. Additionally, based on survey data from 52 museums, we know that in March 2021 attendance for the average museum remained at 26% of pre-pandemic attendance levels.

Funding Resources as of March 2021

Knowing that museums rely on their patrons for 45% of their total income from program and services revenue, we asked for up-to-date data, as of March 2021, on fundraising during the pandemic. Specifically, we looked at governmental and non-governmental funding sources. As we reported in ACM Trends Report 4.7, the median value of funding from governmental sources in September 2020 was $205,000 (N = 96). Of the 96 museums responding, 77 had approached private funders (ACM Trends #4.13) with an average return of $50,000.

A second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding was awarded in early 2021, in time for award announcements before the Spring survey. At this time, most museums responding to the survey (n = 80) reported moderate success in obtaining government funds during and related to the COVID-19 pandemic, exhibiting an 80% success rate with a median value of almost $400,000. Appeals for private funding were even more successful (98% success rate) but yielded smaller amounts, with a median value of just over $100,000.

Shuttered Venue Operators Grants & The Employee Retention Tax Credit

Two new streams of funding were available to museums to apply for through the American Rescue Plan Act and the CARES Act. In March 2021, nearly one-third of museums (n = 27) indicated that they had applied or intended to apply for a Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVO). At the time of the survey, SVO had not yet been distributed.

Additionally, just over one-third of museums (n = 32) indicated that they had received Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) funds, with the median museum receiving $290,328. We have not collected further data on either the ERTC or SVO at this point.

Fundraising Success During the Pandemic

Fundraising success is about more than securing grants. Museums are constantly looking for new funding sources and streams and setting goals to meet operating budgets. This remained true during the pandemic. Reviewing 218 museum’s 990 information, we found that the median museum relied on donations for almost half of their total income. In the Spring 2021 survey, we asked children’s museums whether their fundraising efforts were more successful, just as successful, or less successful during the first pandemic year (March 2020 – March 2021) compared to the previous year. Three-fourths of museums indicated that fundraising was just as or more successful during the first pandemic year (n = 79).


In Spring 2021, children’s museums were generally confident that they could meet their financial obligations one year on in Spring 2022. Eighty museums responded to the question “How confident do you feel that your museum will be able to maintain its financial obligations to maintain operations a year from now?” on a scale from Not at all confident to Very confident. Slider responses were recorded as numerals between 0.00 and 1.00, accordingly.

Seventy-three museums responded with a degree of confidence equal to or higher than 0.5, indicating that museums had found a way to compensate for the financial hit caused by drastically lower attendance numbers.

Government funding proved vital for many museums. Overall, their fundraising success during the pandemic seems to have stimulated children’s museums’ confidence.

Figure 1.Confidence in meeting financial obligation by Spring 2022. (n = 80)

Figure 1 above is a Box and Whisker Plot displaying the responding museums’ confidence (n = 80). We will explain each element of the Box and Whisker Plot and what it shows about our data. Box and Whisker Plots are useful for displaying the range of values in a dataset, including the median value and quartiles of the data’s spread. Each quartile includes 25% of responding museums. Here, the orange box shows us the second quartile, the third quartile, and the median values of our data. The median is represented by the vertical line down the middle of the box. The left “side” of the box displays the second quartile, and the right “side” of the box displays the third quartile. The purple dot in the second quartile is the mean, or average value, of our data set. The whiskers, or the horizontal lines, on either side of the box show us the first and fourth quartiles. The five blue dots ranging between 0.10 and 0.45 are outliers.

So, what does all this mean in the context of museums’ confidence in meeting their financial obligations? By looking at the median, we can tell that the middle value of our data set represents a museum that is quite confident that it will meet its financial obligations in Spring 2022.

On a scale where a rating of Not at all confident yields a value of 0.00 and a rating of Very confident yields a value of 1.00, a median value of 0.85 reflects fairly high confidence. Meanwhile, the orange box tells us that half of the museums in the dataset, or 40 out of 80 museums, are moderately to very confident that they will meet their financial obligations in Spring 2022.

The short right whisker tells us that 20 museums are very confident in their ability to meet their financial obligations. Of the remaining 20 museums, five (represented by the blue dots) are less than confident about meeting their financial obligations. The box’s long left whisker shows that the first quartile of museums is somewhat confident in meeting their financial obligations. The takeaway is this: 75% of the museums in this data set are moderately to very confident that they can meet their financial obligations in Spring 2022. In the following sections, we explore the reasons for their optimism.

Reasons for Confidence

Every museum has a unique rationale for any confidence it has about its late- and post-pandemic future. However, we identified six general categories that illustrate why museums are right to feel confident. Thirty museums referenced a diversified funding stream, including federal and local government funding as well as private funding, as a reason for confidence. Twenty-seven museums have been encouraged by attendance during their re-opening phases and have received more visitors than anticipated. Twenty-three museums indicated that a reduction in operational spending as part of a long-term planning strategy, along with current cash reserves, meant they could be confident about meeting future operational needs.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, reducing operation spending also included a reduction in staff. We detail the impacts of staffing over the course of the Pandemic in ACM Trends Report #4.12.

Additionally, seven museums in our data set either belong to a larger museum/university structure or are completely funded by local government and have moved to more sustainable budgets to ensure future operations. Finally, one museum mentioned that rent reduction has been helpful, and four museums moved into new spaces with higher capacity and lower operating costs.

Fall 2021 Follow-up

In the past year, museums have reimagined their operations and service to their communities, and this has affected their staff. During an ACM Leadership call in Fall 2021, about 6-months after the Spring 2021 survey, ACM and Knology followed up with roughly 20 ACM member museum leaders to hear if they were still confident in meeting their operations’ budgets in 2022.

With attendance not yet back up to pre- pandemic levels, museum leaders’ confidence in meeting financial obligations in 2022 was high yet speculative. On a scale of 1 (least confident) to 5 (most confident), museum staff on the call indicated confidence between 3 and 5, with specific caveats and new concerns. Key concerns centered around the continued need for federal and state governmental funding to fill in the gaps of lowered earned revenue. Specifically, the Shuttered Venue Operating Grants and PPP loans were still covering many 2021 costs and were projected to continue to support museum operations into 2022. A second round of SVOG and funds from the Employee Retention Tax Credit were noted as potential future governmental funds that these museums were banking on. A museum CFO noted that, “Once the federal funding runs out, our confidence drops off tremendously not knowing which direction covid stats are going to go. Just when we thought it was getting back to ‘normal’ the Delta variant picked up. What’s next?” This was met with widespread agreement from others in attendance.

Museums staff noted that donations from individuals and foundations were starting to taper off, with many noting that perceived “sympathy giving” at the height of the pandemic in 2020 was not as common in Fall 2021. Many did not expect their fundraising to be as successful in 2022 compared to their early pandemic success.

We will continue to monitor the state of the children’s museum field into 2022 to understand how these concerns impact their missions and operations.

About This Research

The data used in this report came from an online survey that ACM sent to US-based children’s museums. Overall, 91 museums responded to at least part of the survey. All participating museums were based in the US. Additional data was collected through an ACM Leadership call discussion forum where data was presented back to museum leaders for their response.


Flinner, K., Voiklis, J., Field, S., Attaway, E., Gupta, R., & Fraser, J. (2020). Museums in a Pandemic: Financial Impacts. ACM Trends 4(2).

Flinner, K., Voiklis, J., Field, S., Thomas, U.G, Attaway, E., & Gupta, R. (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Diversifying Funding Streams. ACM Trends 4(7).

Flinner, K., Field, S., Voiklis, J., Thomas, U.G., & ACM Staff (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Personnel & Rebuilding Teams. ACM Trends 4(12).

Fraser, J., Field, S., Voiklis, J., Attaway, E., & Thomas, U. G. (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Patterns in Fundraising. ACM Trends 4(13).

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

Association of Children’s Museums to Partner on Communities for Immunity, Boosting Vaccine Confidence

ARLINGTON, VA (August 5, 2021)—The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) is proud to partner with Communities for Immunity, an unprecedented collaboration among museums and libraries to boost COVID-19 information and vaccine confidence in communities across the United States.

Communities for Immunity provides funding to museums, libraries, science centers, and other cultural institutions to enhance vaccine confidence where it matters most: at the local level. Building on the many ways they have supported their communities during the pandemic, the partnership will activate museums and libraries to create and deliver evidence-driven materials and develop resources, programs, and approaches specifically designed to help these institutions engage diverse audiences in vaccine confidence.

The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) are leading Communities for Immunity with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and in collaboration with the American Library Association (ALA) and the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM). Museums and libraries will leverage resources and research available on vaccines and variants disseminated by IMLS’ research partnership with OCLC and Battelle, the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) project. Communities for Immunity will further build on existing resources and efforts, including the Smithsonian Institution’s Vaccines & US: Cultural Organizations for Community Health initiative, as well efforts from the CDC, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and more.

“In the U.S. currently only children over the age of 12 are eligible for vaccination against COVID-19,” said Larry Hoffer, Interim Executive Director of ACM. “However, children’s museums can leverage their position as hubs in their communities to provide key information to parents and guardians of those children to empower them to make the safe choice regarding vaccination.”

In addition to ACM, organizations joining in the effort include the Association of African American Museums (AAAM), the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL), the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM), and the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). This national coalition of partners are creating a Community of Practice to develop and refine vaccine education resources that will be shared with the broader museum and library community.

This important project launches at a critical moment as the United States is experiencing both a surge in COVID-19 cases related to dangerous new coronavirus variants and an urgent need to dramatically increase vaccination rates.

“Throughout the pandemic, our nation’s museums and libraries have supported their communities with critical educational and social services,” said Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums. “As community pillars and trusted messengers, they are well-positioned to help build trust in and overcome hesitation to the COVID-19 vaccines.”

About ACM

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. With more than 460 members in 50 states and 19 countries, ACM leverages the collective knowledge of children’s museums through convening, sharing, and dissemination. Learn more at www.childrensmuseums.org.

About the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

Founded in 1973, ASTC is a network of nearly 700 science and technology centers and museums, and allied organizations, engaging more than 110 million people annually across North America and in almost 50 countries. With its members and partners, ASTC works towards a vision of increased understanding of—and engagement with—science and technology among all people. For more information, visit www.astc.org.

About the American Alliance of Museums

The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. For more information, visit www.aam-us.org.

For more information on Communities for Immunity, visit communitiesforimmunity.org.

Reflecting on One Year of the Pandemic for Children’s Museums and the Communities They Serve

Association of Children’s Museums’ “Museums Mobilize” Initiative Highlights Efforts from Past Year

ARLINGTON, VA (March 18, 2021)—By March 19, 2020, all children’s museums in the U.S. had closed their doors to the public in response to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomorrow, March 19, commemorates one year of transformation within the children’s museum field, with museums creating new programs to support their communities and fill critical needs all while facing unprecedented operational crisis. Through its Museums Mobilize initiative, the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) is documenting these programs in service to children and families, and this effort currently counts 167 programs from 78 children’s museums in 34 states and four countries.

“Currently, 61% percent of children’s museums around the world are open to public visitation—a percentage that is currently at its highest point over the past year,” said ACM Executive Director Laura Huerta Migus. “As educational innovators, advocates for childhood, and community anchors, children’s museums have always offered more than the physical visit alone. The past year has put this fact into stark relief as we continue to serve our communities.”

Immediately following their initial physical closures in March 2020, children’s museums began pivoting to serve their communities in new ways, and more than 70 percent of ACM’s museum membership was offering virtual programming by June 2020. In addition, children’s museums have pursued other innovative strategies such as partnerships with schools and activity kits to help close the digital divide. At the same time, the pandemic has had a major effect on children’s museum operations, resulting in lost revenue and reductions in staffing. In summer 2020, 75 percent of children’s museums reported only 28% of the attendance they received during the same period in 2019. A survey from the American Alliance of Museums found that individual museums lost on average $850,000 as a result of the pandemic.

In an upcoming webinar on April 6 at 2:00 p.m. ET, ACM will highlight specific children’s museum efforts to offer support to parents and caregivers. Leaders from Louisiana Children’s Museum, Pretend City Children’s Museum, and DuPage Children’s Museums will engage in a fireside chat with their community partners on projects from expert parenting webinars to text message programs. Register here.

As the world looks to reopening, it’s clear the pandemic will have consequences on museum operations for years to come. ACM’s Museums Mobilize initiative highlights the need to invest in children’s museums as community responders. Learn more about the efforts of children’s museums worldwide the hashtag #MuseumsMobilize and by viewing the Museums Mobilize dashboard with key stats at ChildrensMuseums.org/Museums-Mobilize.

About Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. With more than 460 members in 50 states and 19 countries, ACM leverages the collective knowledge of children’s museums through convening, sharing, and dissemination. Learn more at www.childrensmuseums.org.

Children’s Museums Surviving the Pandemic: Insights from Three Leaders

This article is part of the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.”
Click here to read other articles in this issue.

By Peter Olson

“How are we going to survive?” was the first question many children’s museums faced in March.  While many strategies have been developed, it remains an open question. The coronavirus pandemic is still affecting all aspects of society, and children are experiencing upended lives. With many museums’ doors still closed, children’s museums are innovating safe ways to be of service to their audience while protecting staff and fighting for institutional survival. It’s not an overstatement to say we are living through an unprecedented juncture, one at which every children’s museum in the U.S. initially closed to visitors in mid-March, the duration of the pandemic is unknown, and it remains unclear how post-virus attitudes will affect hands-on museums. 

In this context, in March, I spoke with three children’s museum leaders to learn about their real-time efforts to keep their museums sustainable through the pandemic. Stephanie Hill Wilchfort, president and CEO, Brooklyn Children’s Museum; Tanya Durand, executive director, Greentrike (Children’s Museum of Tacoma); and Tammie Kahn, executive director, Children’s Museum Houston, all shared strategies and tactics for surviving closure, preparing to reopen, and re-imagining missions and adapted operations. 

In late June, I checked in again with all three regarding specific aspects of their reopening progress. These conversations often spoke to the dire realities of these tough times, but they all shared the hope that the children’s museums field will reemerge as relevant, vital resources for children, families, and communities after the pandemic.

When did you first start grappling with the effects of pandemic?

WILCHFORT: Even though New York was not in lockdown yet, we started seeing an unexpected decline in visitation the first weekend in March. The following week we started grappling with closing. This wasn’t our first emergency health situation. We dealt with similar issues during a measles outbreak earlier in 2019, so we had developed some messaging and protocols on how to communicate. But this time we had to invent a framework for helping determine when we should close. To start, we created a basic four-point guideline. We would close: 

  1. If the governments ask us to close;
  2. If fewer than five staff members are able to report to duty to run the museum;
  3. If an employee reports serious and contagious illness; or
  4. If a visitor reports serious and contagious illness. 

We did not originally anticipate two other considerations. The first was that public health experts were clear that closure of spaces like ours could help mitigate the potential crisis, and that public sentiment shifted to feeling like museums should close. On March 12, both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History closed. We closed on Saturday, March 14. Second, at some point, with very few visitors and almost no revenue, staffing the museum was costing substantially more than we were earning. Does it make financial sense to run the museum when no one is coming? We later amended our closure framework to take public health experts into account, and to include an additional decision point related to non-attendance.

To determine when to reopen, we take our cues from New York City and New York State. We’ve been looking at how museums in other countries have handled this, and it seems like there is likely to be a twelve-week timeline for sheltering in place. Based on that, we initially assumed a July 1 reopening date. (That date was later moved to October 1.) Even if the world returns halfway to normal by then, our institutions may still be unable to reopen, either because large crowds will still be discouraged, or because we have had to contract so substantially that ramping up will take some time. We also know that, even when we do reopen, there will likely be a period of lower attendance and revenue.

New York City was initially one of the hardest hit COVID-19 areas in the country.  What’s the mood in your city today?  What do people want from a children’s museum now?

WILCHFORT: The mood is cautiously optimistic as the impact of the disease seems to be waning locally. Recently, we were heartened by the return of 600 survey responses from our visitors in two days. People seem to be willing to imagine coming back in the fall with safety measures in place.

DURAND: Our Pacific Northwest CEO group had been talking about the possibility of closure since mid-February. Examining models and various scenarios, we had been working on how to stay open as long as possible, right up to the day before everyone closed. What we thought was right one day, wasn’t right the next day. In a twelve-hour span, the conversation transitioned from “let’s be that place for families that is safe, clean, and has resources” into “it’s not socially responsible to be a place to gather.” On March 12 we closed our outreach program and on Friday, March 13, we closed the museum. Our childcare center stayed open until March 17, when a parent called us to report their child had symptoms. She never was tested, but we decided to close anyway for at least two weeks. Then another family called to inform us that their child also had symptoms. We’ll reopen the museum when it’s safe to do it. We’re not in a red-hot hurry.

In response to overwhelming community need, the museum reopened some day camps and its childcare center.  What has been community response to these shifts? Have other needs emerged that you’re dealing with or planning to?

DURAND: We are now coordinating an extension of the day camps into the summer months, and are poised to lean into the needs that fall may bring. The community’s response is one of gratitude and encouragement.

KAHN: We closed the museum to the public on March 16 and initially hoped to reopen in July. (The museum reopened at limited capacity in June). When visitors walk through our doors again, we know they’ll have much higher expectations than previously. With children out of school for so long, parents will be looking for educational, enriching resources. Our educators will be working in the galleries providing more personalized, content-rich experiences. We’re still going to have fun, but we’re going to provide value where and when it’s most needed.

Children’s Museum Houston (CMH) jumped out early in the production and dissemination of video and online learning programs. How have these digital offerings been received? What have you learned that may shape future work in this area?

KAHN: Our videos have had 2.8 million views. Our eblast initially had 70,000 subscribers; it’s now down to about 68,000. As far as content, we know that reading programs are oversaturated. Keeping at least digital connections with children is good for their mental health, but are they learning their ABCs? We just don’t know yet. Our videos have produced some museum “stars”—kids come in and ask for educators by name.

Millennial audiences approach life differently. They are harder to reach and less interested in the physical interactions with the museum. To continue to reach them, be ready to go digital. That said, we also know there are still digital deserts in Houston’s lower income communities. We have learned from local educators that only 42 percent of students logged on 1x/week to all the online learning programs the schools have been pumping out. School administrators figure they have lost contact with about 50 percent of students. Social justice needs to shape mission-directed museum work: if we can’t reach them, how can we serve them?
How are you remaining vital to your audience and your community while closed?

DURAND: As our community called upon us to spread the mission to honor children and champion play in diverse ways, last fall, our organization made an identity shift and changed its name to “Greentrike.” We’ll always operate a great children’s museum and, in fact, we’re opening a satellite. But we will also be an advocate, a disrupter, an educator, and a partner in ways that go far beyond typical museum operations. In addition to the museum and our emerging satellite, we operate a childcare center and a school. We’re leading a community-wide effort to explicitly brand our community as child-centered. Partnering with schools, the Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, and the parks department, Greentrike has been tasked with coordinating the effort to provide childcare for children of emergency personnel, healthcare professionals, and others on the frontlines.

Based on your experiences in the past four months, do you see the mission of Greentrike evolving in any specific ways?

DURAND: Yes. For example, Greentrike is partnering with another agency to lead a conversation about ending the childcare crisis in our community.

Our nimbleness and our lack of bureaucratic structure enable us to advocate pretty strongly for important issues as they come up. We can “go to bat” for partners who lack the resources or the capacity to do so on their own.

WILCHFORT: We are all about in-person, sensory, physical programming and object-based learning. We do not have a robust digital team nor many resources in this area. So we have convened a cross-department team with staff from marketing, programming, exhibits, and live animal care, and started to create units of digital outreach programming in three big areas: Amazing Animals, which will showcase some of the museum’s animals in a digital format; Earth Science, based on content we’ve developed for a new earth science garden to be opened in a few years; and Cultural Festivals, creating content that brings in our partners, with activities, recipes, and dancing that normally happen at our in-person festivals. We hope that through this process we will build competencies around digital resources and new ways of presenting content that will continue after the immediate pressing need is over.

KAHN: We transformed our website to offer fun and engaging at-home learning opportunities for families. We provide both livestream broadcasting along with a database of school-related, curriculum-based activities and videos created by our staff. We launched this while we still had access to the museum, but then educators began “broadcasting” from their homes. Their children and pets starred in some of the programs. It’s all about connecting our audience with our stars—our educators—now that classrooms are closed.

What are the top issues you’re struggling with because of the pandemic? 

WILCHFORT: We realized right away that there would be no work for most of our part-time floor staff in a closed museum. We had to make the heartbreaking decision to lay them off. We called two staff meetings, both of which I led, on two separate days, and all staff completed a Google form indicating which meeting they could attend to ensure that no more than thirty-five people were in the room for each meeting. When staff arrived at the museum, we kept everyone at least six feet apart. We tried to make it as safe as possible while recognizing that a level of respect needs to be afforded to them. We also reduced hours and salaries by 20 percent for all full-time staff, but have made a commitment to retain as many people as possible, protecting their healthcare benefits throughout this process.

From left to right: Tanya Durand, Greentrike; Tammie Kahn, Children’s Museum Houston; Stephanie Wilchfort, Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Our board engaged in conversations about our annual fundraiser benefit scheduled for May 27. The initial idea was to do something like a Zoom party as an engagement and cultivation event as much as a fundraiser. The reality is that in this moment, children’s museums are not at the forefront of people’s needs. When emergency workers are on the frontlines, often working without proper PPE, it does not seem like the right time for us to fundraise aggressively. It’s so hard to say this might not be our time, when we love our organizations so much. However, it is important we advocate with donors and public funders in ways that aren’t tone deaf to what is happening around our city and country. Because we have amazing city support, wonderful trustees, a robust foundation community in New York, as well as local support for a future arts and culture stimulus, I am cautiously optimistic about our future.

Has your temporarily restrained
approach to fundraising changed in the past few months?  Where are you now with regards to raising money for core operations or special projects?

WILCHFORT: We elected not to do the May 27 event, but instead held a virtual board gathering and unveiled designs for our science garden exhibit that’s in development. Board members still gave money. We have reengaged in fundraising. Now that we’re reopening, donors are coming back. Two months ago, none of us understood how long this would last. Now we have a better sense of defining our response and a more refined understanding of where our organization falls: cultural organizations are more relevant than ever in providing safe ways to gather for learning experiences. Parents and children are fraying at the edges. We’re all asked to play roles we never expected to play, working full-time, and limiting outside contact. It’s a real crisis, and parents are anxious. Our fundraising aligns with meeting the needs in our community today.   

DURAND: I worry about people’s livelihoods. We reduced our team from sixty-nine to twenty-two. On average, the furloughed team members received two weeks paid leave, and it’s our intention to continue to pay for their healthcare benefits during the furlough. Our board cares deeply about our staff and is looking at the long game.

Like all of my colleagues I’m worried about money. We’ll probably have to dip into our line of credit. Our museum admission is by donation, so we don’t rely on the gate income that other museums do—a blessing in disguise in times like these. We actually save money by being closed. Our financial forecast is that we’ll end our fiscal year with a $150,000 shortfall for the first two and a half months (mid-March through May). This is not great news, but it certainly could be worse, and I feel for colleagues facing deeper deficits.

KAHN: We’re in the middle of complex financial modeling, including significantly dampening predictions for the coming eighteen months. For years we’ve studied worst case scenarios, but this crisis rivals our worst nightmare. We initially laid off 150 part-time staff and gave them two weeks’ severance to help bridge them to unemployment benefits. Many of this team live in families all dependent on part-time employment. Locally, massive layoffs due to required business closures have been devastating. For decades, Texas has attracted people who came here willing to work two or three jobs to give their kids a chance at the American Dream. We are proud to hire people from the demographics we serve. But we never planned on extended, universal unemployment for our entire region. And our biggest economic engine is still the energy business, which has hit several lowest-ever markers in the past few weeks. There’s a sea change taking hold in that industry as well.

Federal payroll assistance does not cover part-time employees. Normally we have plenty of cash on hand, even a cash reserve in our endowment. However, our shut down eliminated spring break and the start of our summer peak attendance. We are predicting an overall loss of $500,000 at the end of our 2020 fiscal year (June 30), even with short term federal relief for full-time staff. Our endowment value is at its lowest in ten years. We were fortunate to be running a surplus before the crisis, and we have been authorized to consider spending up to $1 million from our reserve fund including cash held in our endowment.     

But our museum is people-dependent. Our mission model is about transforming communities through innovative, child-centered learning. Our level of community engagement requires a lot of fully engaged talented people. Our efforts to have collective impact and work collaboratively are taking a major hit. Most of our community-based partners are shut down, libraries are closed, schools may not open until fall, and people are isolated. Our digital efforts are producing high contact numbers, but we are just beginning to learn how to build robust digital relationships. We are already evaluating learning outcomes from these efforts, but the evidence will require we rethink the new nature of the value that we bring.

As staff were gradually brought back to work in the museum, what new trainings did they need to meet today’s audience needs (safety standards, audience expectations, etc.)?

KAHN: Our staff training is not much different than before. The museum visit was re-structured as an “Epic Adventure” with a clearly mapped entrance/exit that paces the visit and allows social distancing. Each visitor receives an Epic Adventure bag that contains 80 percent of the materials need for the adventure, and which they can take home. Normally, the museum is full of frontline staff, but now, only our full-time educators are working in the galleries.
What are you working on now that you are most excited about?

WILCHFORT: Our 20,000-square-foot, outdoor Earth Science Garden, a big capital project in partnership with the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, and by far our most exciting large-scale project. While it won’t come to fruition for a couple of years, it’s going to change the organization. The narrative for the eight exhibit areas is rooted in the history of Brooklyn and how it got its slopes and heights.
How do you see your organization coming out of the shutdown? Are you expecting and planning for any fundamental changes to your audience and how you serve them?

WILCHFORT:  If there’s one thing I’d say to other children’s museums in this moment, you may think you should put the brakes on big capital projects, but don’t. One, it’s good for the institution. When we do come out of this, people will need these new projects and programs. Two, content development, construction, and fabrication can be part of a stimulus program. If we keep the capital projects going, we’re creating jobs. If we stop these big projects, we won’t have that ability. It’s essential that everyone keep their capital and major exhibit work moving.

KAHN: We’ll be reducing our hours and days of operation, further cutting personnel expenses. However, we will increase the depth of educational experiences for visitors. Even before the pandemic, this generation of caregivers tend to display a heightened level of control over all aspects of their child’s safety, as well as the selection of environments and experiences to which their child is exposed. As a public venue designed for young children, we will be subjected to higher cleanliness and safety expectations than ever in the coming “post-COVID” era. As a nation, we have spent spring 2020 retraining our citizenry to assume new behaviors that are not in sync with our pre-pandemic missions or business models.

Since you have reopened, what are some of the biggest changes and challenges related to health/safety standards compliance?

KAHN: Visitors’ temperatures are scanned at the door. Masks are required for everyone age two and older–no mask, no admission. (Masks are sold in the museum store for $3.95!) Ever since Sandy Hook, the museum has posted a guard at the door. A typical compliance issue is visitors pulling their masks off their nose once they’re inside. Visitors who do so are reminded by staff, and if they still don’t comply, the guard will ask them to leave. Only one family so far has requested a membership refund over the masks rule.

Like most reopened museums, we have initiated an aggressive cleaning program, and have spent $400,000 on upgrades and cleaning supplies (HEPA filters, UV lights, cleaning products, etc.). Our lobby’s former Yogurt Snack Bar is now a Hand Sanitizer Bar.

A separate but related issue involves staff. Their temperatures are taken daily, and masks must be worn in the museum at all times. To date, one staff member tested experienced COVID-19 symptoms after returning from New York; five of the remaining hundred employees were believed to have been exposed to the virus so were sent home out of caution. Each of these employees required individual fourteen-day quarantines. It has been difficult to lose staff due to exposure from families and friends, while still paying full-time salaries for people who are in quarantine.
Do you think adjustments to the children’s museum experience are temporary or permanent? What is your level of optimism for children’s museums to continue to be relevant with hands-on, in-person learning?

DURAND: Children need to play to learn, and they need to play with others to gain social skills. That won’t change. We are waiting longer to reopen because I don’t think it’s right to ask a child to come back to a beloved familiar environment that we designed specifically to engage them in play, and now ask them to engage in different and difficult-to-explain ways. It does not set the child, or the family, up for success. Our field needs to advocate even more strongly that play is the right of children. We need to keep them and their families safe, but we need to push for a return to the rights of childhood as soon as we can.

DURAND: This is a basic operational and philosophical question that the entire museum field is considering. Greentrike will advocate for what families need. Childcare and access to the fundamentals will be important. The museum, I think, will experience a slow ramp back up to “business as usual,” whatever “usual” will mean at that time. We are working with our colleague museums to do a combined launch with consistent messaging. This obviously impacts budget: we are losing most earned income for almost five months. We are applying for CARES support and will continue to raise funds. 

As far as changes to the children’s museum audience, everyone will be enhancing their cleaning and safety protocols and thinking about social distancing. But, since our gallery experiences are hands-on, interactive, and often involve close contact with other visitors, these changes will certainly impact the way we serve our audience and it will certainly feel different.

For children’s museums in general, I don’t think it’s a terminal situation, but a hibernation. My hope is that there won’t be a decreased demand for children’s museums. I don’t anticipate a time when we say we shouldn’t have safe, rewarding, enriching places for children to go. The wake up, however, is going to be fascinating. I don’t know how extensive the hangover will be for families who do not want to return to public places. We need to watch our friends across the ocean, where there is a chance for a second wave, and how they handle it. This edition of Hand to Hand is almost like a time capsule, but one you’re not sure what to put in, because everything is changing on a daily basis.

Peter Olson is currently the owner of Peter Olson Museum Planning, LLC, and is the museum project director of the emerging Region 5 Children’s Museum in North Central Minnesota. Peter has served as the founding executive director at Knock Knock Children’s Museum and the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, and as the director of exhibits at Minnesota Children’s Museum.


In a year filled with rapidly changing responses to a still fluid environment, Children’s Museum Houston just announced that it will launch All-Time Access, an online initiative to enhance distance learning. This program will be open to families all over the world from an all-time digital landscape. As kids return to school, in whatever configuration that may be, the museum will take a break beginning August 31 to focus on All-Time Access meeting children and their families where they are —at school, at home, at play. The museum will reopen once again as soon as it is feasible.

Read other articles in the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.”

After I Hung Up…..

This article is part of the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.” Click here to read other articles in this issue.

The Zoom call ends, the hangout disperses.  You sign off, then what?  What are the first thoughts that come to mind as you return to solo work in a home office, living room, kitchen, silent museum office? In this collection of short pieces, museum staff talk about what they thought about, privately, during those many, many shelter-in-place days. How did they summon the energy to keep going?  What worries them the most?  These writers share what they have learned about their museum and themselves during the pandemic pause as they continue to fight for their museums’ future.

I Had Been Planning, But Instead….

Suzanne LeBlanc | Executive Director
Long Island Children’s Museum (Garden City, NY)
June 16, 2020

I get off the Zoom calls and I think: this wasn’t what I had planned at all for the spring of 2020. I was so sure we would be planning our expansion and capital campaign, a creative and fitting way to end my career. But instead: a pandemic, closing the museum, stay-at-home orders, economic freefall, and then worldwide demonstrations in response to the killing of George Floyd.

I find myself struggling to pivot, to prioritize, to make sense, to give myself a little time when I am not working and worrying, and all the while I’m missing my museum, my staff, and being in the company of others. Internally, I find strength in my relationships with colleagues, my decades of weathering other crises, my ability to stay calm and focused, and in all I have learned from my mentors who have helped shape my career. Externally, I find strength in what the LICM staff, board, and I have built over the years—a museum that always strives to do better, to do good, to stretch itself and face challenges together and head on. More broadly, the support of the full museum community provides the collegial support necessary to navigate the current crises in our field and in our nation.

I am honored and proud of staff members who have stayed the course, worked so hard and with so much passion for what we do. Questioning, debating, moving forward together. Facing our challenges with the certainty that, although this is not what we had planned, we will be steadfast in meeting the challenges and be a better organization in the future for it. New learning of a different kind. But the biggest challenge really—beyond the financial, of course—is trying to figure out what role a children’s museum plays in a non-touch world. How do we now communicate our value? How can we turn some of these challenges into opportunities?

In the end, in spite of a delayed expansion project that I was very much looking forward to, I made my peace with this: my strengths as a leader are needed and well matched for this kind of challenge, for this moment.

Racers, Start Your Engines

Traci Buckner | Executive Director
Akron Children’s Museum (OH)
July 15, 2020

After I hung up, my mind wandered back to the time some of my Leadership Akron group colleagues convinced me to run a leg of a marathon with them. After some friendly cajoling about how I had what it took and could easily do it since I would be on a team, I agreed to run the shortest leg in the race. On race day, my husband and two sons came out to cheer me on. Once they saw me on route, they’d drive up ahead to catch me somewhere along my next mile point. Once they were out of sight, I slowed down to walk a bit. Just as I slowed my pace, they reappeared, driving up beside me. Naturally, I picked up the pace and kept running while they cheered me on and gave me several air high fives.

I have been in need of similar air high fives since museum life came to a sudden halt on that eerie Friday the 13th last March. I often feel like I’m in a Grand Prix race and the announcer has just said “racers start your engines.” He counts down 3-2-1 as I’m revving up to make my best start only to suddenly and unexpectedly be slowed down by multiple surprise twists and turns newly added to the track. The constant engine “revving” is my ongoing brainstorming of new ways to generate revenue while the physical doors to the museum are closed.

Although I long for more riveting reasons—like a sudden influx of revenue—to receive high fives, the ongoing support of my board of directors and other museum supporters motivates me. Seeing the mayor wearing one of our museum face masks and collaborating with volunteers who are committed to seeing the museum weather the storm keeps me going. The support of fellow arts organization colleagues, ACM Leadership Call discussions, and state museum association meetings help me feel connected and inspired to keep up a steady pace in the race to preserve, protect, and reopen the museum.

The “New Normal” Is Not Normal

Sunnee O’Rork | Executive Director
i.d.e.a. Museum (Mesa, AZ)
June 22, 2020

Paradigm shifts for organizations often come planned and over a period of time, but the pandemic paradigm switch arrived swiftly like a thief in the night.

Prior to St. Patrick’s Day, when the i.d.e.a. Museum closed, we were thriving. Attendance and revenues had increased, and we had received $5 million in city bond funds to support Phase I of our Site Master Plan. The i.d.e.a. Museum Foundation was conducting a philanthropic feasibility study while the City of Mesa’s Engineering Department conducted a facility feasibility study. Our long-anticipated vision for growth was nearing reality… and then COVID-19 hit.

We immediately shifted gears, immersing ourselves in quickly making multiple decisions even with incomplete information. How long would we be closed? Should we cancel our annual fundraiser? How could we realign our city and our museum foundation’s budgets? Could we quickly create virtual programs to stay connected to our audience? How could we revise our interactive exhibits to meet new sanitation protocols? These questions and more occupied my thoughts 24/7.

After stakeholder discussions and over the short course of a few weeks, the annual fundraiser was cancelled, thirteen part-time and two full-time staff were laid off, we lost $260,000 in combined revenues, social media and web content increased, a one-way route was devised throughout the museum with a revision of fifteen interactives, and an outdoor space was planned for activation.

I have distaste for the “new normal.” There’s nothing normal about this. We are a resilient team that has been through four paradigm shifts in fourteen years. We use Susan Kenny Stevens’ book Nonprofit Lifecycles: Stage-Based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity to gauge our approaches and progress. We share with each other ways to stay healthy, and despite the sudden and pervasive upheaval, we know that “this too shall pass.”


Carol Scott | CEO & Executive Director
Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert (Rancho Mirage, CA)
June 15, 2020

When we closed our doors on March 13 to protect the safety and wellbeing of our community, we thought it would be short lived. As the days passed and the shelter-in-place orders became mandated, it was evident we were headed for unprecedented times. The world was changing fast. No industries had planned for serious environmental disruption, and our “high-touch” children’s museum was no different. We were grappling with issues we couldn’t have predicted, and the only certainty was uncertainty. Public, private, for-profit, and nonprofit sectors all faced the same problems.

Questions were endless: How long will this last? What do we do with staff? What can we continue to provide? How will all this affect children and their families? What does this do to our value proposition to the social capital we have developed through our programs? How will the museum survive? (Just to name a few.) What plagued my middle-of-the-night sleep were thoughts of limited cash reserves and no endowment. Our budget is based on 85 percent earned revenue. To close even temporarily was tantamount to a possible and permanent end. Without guests, school tours, outreach, events, memberships, and more, our daily earned income dried up overnight. And even though we had contingency plans for “normal” disasters, our current situation was worse than 9/11 and the 2008 recession combined. The road ahead looked impossible. As someone who usually thrives in crisis and can usually handle the curveballs thrown my way, I felt overwhelmed and a little scared. Would this thirty-year-old organization end under my leadership?

Enter the Zooms, the webinars, and the PPP money to keep my chief operating and program officers employed. Overwhelmed by what needed to happen, working with these two staff members and listening to my peers on our invaluable weekly calls, I realized this was not something I alone had to “fix.”

COVID-19 has asked humans to do something that the rest of nature does nearly every day—adapt. I focused on accepting that this was a pivotal time to not let what we couldn’t do interfere with what we could do. Present circumstances didn’t determine where we could go, they merely determined where we needed to start.

Buffering the Loss

Charlie Walter | Director
Mayborn Museum Complex (Waco, TX)
June 1, 2020

Some of my happiest moments in life are when I find a way to squeeze in an extra activity between commitments. If I fly into a city for a meeting, I try to arrive a little early, so I can explore the city before the meeting starts. If I go to a conference, I may stay an extra few days in the area to explore a nearby National Park before I head back home and to work. Sometimes when I am at the museum and one meeting ends early, I’ll take a walk along the river before the next meeting begins.

Now that life has been upended by COVID-19, I’ve found new hours to use in similar ways. With stay-at-home orders, instead of commuting to work in the morning, I now take a long walk in those early hours with my two Labradors, Abby and Arlo. Instead of commuting home in the evenings, I now grab my camera or flyrod and walk down to the river near my house.

I am thankful to have not lost a friend or loved one due to the pandemic. But I have lost the momentum my museum team has built over the past five years. Projects are on hold. Open staff positions are frozen. Budgets have been cut. Previous operations and revenues numbers—including those from the recent first quarter of 2020—are now meaningless as predictors of the future. 

But my morning and afternoon walks with my dogs have helped to buffer the professional loss I feel because of COVID-19, and I feel more ready to face another uncertain day.

A Ride with Friends on the Corona-Coaster

Roxane Hill | Executive Director
Wonderscope Children’s Museum (Shawnee, KS)
July 10, 2020

Recently, ACM Executive Director Laura Huerta Migus referred to us all being on the Corona-coaster! I, for one, want off this roller coaster.

In January, at Wonderscope, I deemed this year was “our” year. We had worked hard for many years preparing for and launching a capital campaign and starting construction on a new building. Construction was nearing completion; we would soon close our campaign and prepare to move into a bigger and better Wonderscope. We were due this good year.

January started well, February started to slide, then came March. This was not what we had scripted. We are now hoping we can open our new doors in October.

Despite this dire time, I’m finding pockets of joy, friendship, and solidarity. The team at Wonderscope has rallied; we have found joy and success in little things. Our board has rallied to support furloughed staff, and most importantly, I have found true friendship, collegiality, and solidarity with other museum CEOs, particularly those in the middle of the country. We call ourselves the Central U.S. Museums. We Zoom every other week. We share resources and ideas. We sympathize, and listen. The combined wisdom is extraordinary and so openly and bravely shared.  

The weekly Leadership Calls hosted by ACM have been a lifeline too. We may be spread throughout the country and the world, but we are all in this together. These new friendships and support have sustained me. If you haven’t yet found a group of like-minded roller coaster riders, I urge you to do it. These conversations will be some of the best hours you will spend in the COVID-19 theme park.

This Is It

Deb Gilpin | President & CEO
Madison Children’s Museum (WI)
July 7, 2020

THIS is it. This IS it. This is IT. This I sit. Every way you place the emphasis is a chuckle. Try it.  Each moment is the only one that matters—my approach to life. Opportunities to practice equanimity knock at my door every day, as they always have.

On 3/12/20 my journal says …“And the world tilts.” But that wasn’t my first note about something stirring. Turns out on 2/7/20 I began logging symptoms. I’d just spent time in China, consulting for a children’s museum project. Touring an international school, I saw staff checking kids’ temperatures, tongues, and hands before they entered the building. “That’s normal here.” LOL. On the third day of exciting progress making plans, Debbie hit the Downer button to talk with the Chinese project team about risks. Government closures? Sure. Pandemic? Naaahhh. A week later I was sick as a dog.

We closed the museum on 3/14/20, and by 3/20/20 I terminated employment for twenty-nine people, and cut hours of thirty-one more, all done safely distanced by email, no less. By 4/11/20 we’d secured a PPP, and renewed forty jobs. Great news. But Joy was working from someone else’s home and had taken her toys with her.

As a long-time CEO, I generally bear the weight of my entire museum. I try to do right by its people—staff and visitors who bring it to life—its resources, and its many exposures (economic, legal, market, etc.). I accept that weight, and try to bring stability, curiosity, and patience to whatever comes up in a day, giving space to discover the gift every person or situation offers. That’s where the joy comes for me.

After five weeks I’d had no days off, no exercise, no nature, little sleep, and I’d cut my own hair (badly). I had ignored all the mental health advice—“Be kind to yourself,” “Who do you want to be through this?” So, I slept on that question, because 2:30 a.m. is a CEO’s golden hour.

By sunrise I had a plan to better nurture myself, and my sense of humor showed up. I thanked Anxiety for doing its job pointing out that there was a problem to be solved. I remembered that every moment of this whole thing IS what it is, and has within it all the gifts and possibilities, just as every kid who comes through the museum’s front door has within themselves. Be the kid. This is it.

FOMO: Missing the Joy of Engagement

Beth Ann Balalaos | Access and Inclusion Manager
Long Island Children’s Museum (Garden City, NY)
June 1, 2020

I manage a program that broadly focuses on making our institution more accessible for visitors with various disabilities. I see this goal come to fruition when families first visit the museum for an event designed for visitors with disabilities, and most of them keep coming back. There is no better experience than seeing a child laughing, comfortable enough to just be who they are. For a lot of these families, just playing and enjoying themselves is not something they always get to do. It’s a big deal to have the opportunity to be a family without looks or judgment from others. Not being able to provide these opportunities is one of the major reasons I have been struggling during this pandemic.

I have a distinct childhood memory: sitting in the cafeteria at a table smaller than all the others and wishing to be “over there.” For two years, with two neurodiversities, I was in a self-contained class for second and third graders whose disabilities included learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and blindness or low vision. These two years were by far the two most influential of my life. Despite my teachers’ efforts to make us feel like everyone else, we lived in another world—one that always felt like it wasn’t quite made for us. Not much changed for me in middle school or high school. I was not fully mainstreamed until the last semester of my senior year in high school. To this day I feel like I never quite left behind that label of “otherness.”

Even though I had completed an internship and worked as floor staff at the children’s museum during my college years, I never intended to work in one. I wanted to be a teacher. But in 2016, a month before graduating with a master’s degree in elementary and special education, I realized teaching wasn’t for me. But how could I serve the kids I wanted to serve, and help them break the cycle of that familiar feeling of being “other”? Then, I got a call from my museum supervisor inviting me to interview for this job.

Like many cultural institutions now, we have altered our content to be delivered virtually. Through online programming, we are probably reaching even more families who may not have been able to access our museum in the past. But I am struggling, folks. Millennials often talk about FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to seeing what their peers are up to on social media. But for me, quarantine has evoked an intense feeling of FOMO…for my museum.

Engagement is a large part of what I do at the museum, and virtual engagement is not scratching that itch for me. As educators, we help visitors connect through conversations and sometimes just smiles. As I write this, those conversations and smiles aren’t happening. I now try to spark that engagement and connection in videos. I enjoy making videos in my new role as a museum vlogger, but I am used to “live” gleaming friendly little faces looking up at me. Now I just stare at a screen, hoping for a comment or a like—a completely new form of “engagement.”

I miss my kids. I miss the laughs. I miss the joy. I miss the smiles. I often think about the kids we serve and wonder if they are struggling too. My feeling of not being able to do enough for them is crushing. But I remind myself that we are doing the best we can, and many people in this nation feel similarly frustrated during these odd times. I have no doubt that many our museum families are feeling this way too. I just hope that everyone is being kind to themselves, and I’ll try to remember the same for me. I look forward to seeing my kids again. It is hard to say when that will be, but I am counting the days.

My Kitchen Table

Hannah Hausman | Senior Director, Development and Communications
Santa Fe Children’s Museum (NM)
June 15, 2020

I finish my last digital task of the day…maybe. It is 7:00 p.m. I am sitting at my kitchen table, which has now become my pseudo-command-post-desk-family-gathering space. My eyes burn and blur. I have always had less than stellar eyesight, but over the past few short months my vision has become somewhat hazy. The house is quiet, for now. With my five-year-old out of school for close to three months, working from home has been a juggle and a struggle. My guilt is immense. Will this pandemic damage us—our children—forever?

I am surprised though at how much I have accomplished work-wise in the past few months. Dozens and dozens of grants written and submitted in hopes of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars waiting to be distributed. Donors grateful to see our organization’s response to ensure the learning doesn’t stop. Social media and virtual programming ramped up. Staff pivoting in all sorts of directions. We are an amazing, hardworking team with an incredible leader and supportive board. All that being said, sometimes I feel like I am treading through COVID-19 quicksand.

I am and have always been grateful to work in this industry. Instead of shrinking from the pandemic, we reevaluated, took action, and kept our focus. Here in Santa Fe, our donors, our executive director, and our board are immensely strong and caring. During this period of uncertainty, the culture of our institution and our industry shines through. There’s a lot to be said for the steady, often behind-the-scenes work of building strong foundations.

At the end of each day, I say thanks because I know that no matter what happens, I will always feel proud of my work, whether it is in an office, or straight from a coffee-stained kitchen table. I am working to make a difference for our kids and families. As I close my computer and look out at the southwestern skies—a particularly beautiful sunset amidst all of this chaos—I reflect upon one of my favorite quotes from John Lennon: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” And he was right. It’s the end of a day, but it’s not the end.

Read other articles in the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.”

Building Relationships through a Pandemic

This article is part of the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.” Click here to read other articles in this issue.

By Alix Tonsgard and Laura Diaz

Building and maintaining trusting relationships is at the core of early education and care programs, whether part of a preschool, a social service agency, or a children’s museum. As DuPage Children’s Museum has continued our community outreach programming to vulnerable families in a pandemic, we have expanded and ultimately deepened our approach to building relationships. In the face of a global crisis, with normal communications patterns disrupted, our Partners in Play (PIP) program is still able to meaningfully impact the lives of children and caregivers through a previously underutilized path: texting.

The caregivers we serve often need support in recognizing the growth and development that takes place during open-ended play for young children (ages birth to three). Through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), we created a program to take place in our Young Explorers exhibit gallery, originally designed for families with children under two, and intentionally redesigned to make child development information and milestones more visible.

We began with two cohorts of twelve families each, the first group selected by a social service agency and the second consisting of teen parents recruited from a support group. PIP was scheduled to take place over the course of one year, during which all families would attend monthly sessions at the museum.

The first few PIP sessions were designed to establish trusting relationships between museum staff and caregivers. Once families—some first-time museum visitors—became comfortable, sessions became more content-focused on specific aspects of young children’s development, such as memory, communication, and fine motor skills.

Two months into the program, COVID-19 hit and the museum closed. How could we keep these families engaged in meaningful and accessible ways ? We started group-texting families twice a week with a friendly greeting (“Hi, how are you doing?”) and a simple activity that could be done at home. We also called them individually from time to time just to connect and hear about what life during COVID-19 was like for them. We enlisted the help of a particularly outgoing PIP mother who helped spark replies and conversations among the families. Initially it was difficult to stay connected with teen parents. However, we learned that by postponing the text drop from mid-afternoon to around 7-8 p.m., when bedtime was near and they might finally be able to pick up their phones and relax on the couch, our messages got greater response.

The more we learned from texts and phone calls, the more we were able to tailor PIP activities, developed to take place in a carefully designed museum environment, to new realities—a home, often with other family members, including children of all ages, milling around. One text from a PIP staff member showed a picture of her own two-year-old who had decided to dump every single toy on the floor while Mom was on a Zoom work call. Not only was everyone able to share a laugh about what life is like “working from home,” but PIP staff suggested parents turn messes like this into   clean-up and sorting activities, perfectly appropriate for young children.

The response has been incredible. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, social service home visits paused and other organizations scrambled to come up with a plan for how to work with families from home (both the provider’s home and the caregiver’s home). At this time, the PIP program was the only support some families had. Many PIP caregivers are frontline workers who do not have the privilege of working from home. Throughout the shelter-in-place period, they continued to do what they could to meet the basic needs of their families. Regular texts and calls from DCM staff gave them something to look forward to and focus on beyond their daily struggles.

“The upbringing of ages zero to three is beautiful but very difficult and… very tiring because they need full time care. Programs like PIP help us with our stress and are great and fun dynamics for our babies.

 For families who have low resources it is a huge support because we know that there are an infinite number of organizations…but sometimes they are unreachable for us. Now more than ever with the pandemic, we need to gather and share ideas with one another to help with the upbringing of our children from home.”

Almost every family has a phone, but some families don’t have access to computers or reliable internet connections, making Zoom-delivered programs not fully accessible. Many social service agencies already use texts to stay connected with families. We talk a lot about access, but the pandemic has presented us with a unique opportunity to take a harder look at the realities and needs of the families we serve—in the extended stay-at-home COVID-19 environment and after. We are grateful for how supportive IMLS has been as we tweak this program to meet families where they are in a time when they need us the most

At this writing, there are ten sessions left in our program. We are packing up all the PIP materials and in two scheduled pick-ups at the museum, will give five kits each time to program families. Each kit contains instructions, materials, and child development information for an activity. Later we will text them short videos of how to use these kits. We are looking forward to seeing our families again at pick-up time, but are also excited about the expanded possibilities for keeping these connections strong under any circumstances.

Alix Tonsgard is an early learning specialist and Laura Diaz is a community & family access specialist at the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, Illinois.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read other articles in the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.”

The National Struggle with Unknowingness: Thoughts from a Facilities Director on Reopening

This article is part of the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.” Click here to read other articles in this issue.

By Luke Schultz

After closing on March 13, Madison Children’s Museum (MCM) staff decided there were still too many pandemic unknowns to even project a reopening date. Policies and plans were created to reduce the overall risk of exposure to our visitors and staff. But at this writing, barring any miraculous medical treatment or prevention breakthroughs, we will most likely remain closed until at least March of 2021.

Early discussions about reopening ultimately remained consistent with the museum’s mission and philosophy. We determined we could not provide children with the same freedom of open-ended play and discovery learning without an extensive—and in our view, experience-limiting—set of rules. The Madison audience is well informed, conscientious, and expects high standards. Even if we felt we could prevent or significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 while serving young children and their families, the costs of doing so would be prohibitive, especially with the reduced numbers of visitors expected.

I have been the director of facilities at the museum for the past ten years. Before that, I worked in the field of building management. I am also married with two young children. But in a field focused on creating exhibits, programs, and social gathering places, I write from the perspective of someone charged with keeping the building clean, safe, operational, and all on budget.

Coming from the business world, I have seen a need for greater understanding of and focus on simple practices related to the physical plants, operations, and facilities side of museums. Among both existing and emerging museums, there is a field-wide focus on the museum experience, but not enough emphasis on the essential underlying facilities that deliver it. New safety requirements that have emerged as a result COVID-19 are bringing this issue to the forefront. In 2011, the museum was very lucky to have received a seven-year matching grant from the Kresge Foundation to help support upkeep and replacement of fixed assets like mechanicals, windows, the roof, etc. 

There are building and maintenance issues, large and small, with all museums.  But two primary areas of concern in my role for the museum’s pandemic response planning involve cleaning products and equipment and building air quality.

Cleaning Methods & Products

Just to have all the right equipment and sanitizers on hand is a daunting prospect. Even at the time of this writing (July), our museum has found that sanitizing products remain inconsistently available. Distributors sometimes aim products at “essential business,” and withhold them from “nonessential.” In some cases, distributors have been directed not to sell at all to nonessential businesses. Meanwhile, the same products can be available directly to consumers through Amazon or other retailers, but at a prohibitively high price for businesses buying in sufficient quantities to take care of large buildings.

U.S. Communities, a national cooperative procurement organization for the public sector that has been helpful in the past, reports that many of the products formerly made in the U.S. are now made in China and can be more difficult to obtain.

How clean is clean enough? There is “visual” clean. Traditional cleaning methods have done a good job. Everything looks clean, but how effective is that level of cleaning in this new COVID-19 environment? Our museum reached the conclusion: not good enough. We explored stronger cleaning methods and products, including a “biodome” probiotic spray-on surface coater. This statically charged sprayer encases surfaces, and protection supposedly lasts for ninety days. It is advertised to “work on mud [and other natural] surfaces.” It costs seventeen cents/square foot. It was also deemed safe for children, but when we looked at it, was still in lab studies to see if it works on COVID-19.

Cleaners that work on natural surfaces is a key selling point for us. MCM’s exhibits are known for their creative use of and commitment to natural materials. While green and environmentally friendly—and some people think less hospitable to viruses than hard surfaces—they are now harder to clean than plastic or laminate products. And many exhibit components are not COVID-cleanable at all, as many museums are now finding out, and must be removed from public access.

Building Air Quality

MCM’s HVAC system includes a “variable refrigerant volume” (VRV) system, an energy recovery unit, and boilers. Overall it is a ductless building with individual smaller cooling units in specific spaces. If the building is closed in the summer, and systems are off, humidity levels build and have a corrosive effect on materials and surfaces. Even a closed building requires maintenance and energy costs to stay ahead of the game. MCM has been running the fresh air system at night, when energy costs are lower, to keep air circulating/cooler.

What new levels of HVAC filtration will be needed to protect people from air-circulating particulates, e.g. coronavirus? We are continually checking with ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) for new COVID-19 standards. It has been suggested that some parts of the HVAC system can be enhanced with additional filters (e.g. MAVR-13 filters), but our other smaller units are not designed to accommodate additional, individually attached filters.

At one point, rough estimates for some of these add-ons would cost the museum, at a minimum, an additional $6,000/quarter. 

While We Wait

Like all children’s museums, MCM is very protective of the health and safety of children, their caregivers, our staff, and everyone in our community. We want to open, but knowing that we’re not essential and still feeling too much uncertainty about the pandemic, we remain closed. An initial PPP loan covered salaries through June. Through two difficult rounds of staff layoffs and conversion to a part-time work/share plan, some remaining staff like me have stayed employed, with health insurance.

Meanwhile, while we remain closed, the maintenance/upkeep needs of the building don’t stop. I frequently go to the museum to check on overlooked facility details common in closed or under-utilized buildings. Plumbing, for example. When toilets and sinks aren’t used, hard water buildup affects the fixtures. They will need to be replaced much sooner than they would in an actively used building. So, I go around and flush the toilets to circulate the water, waiting for the day when the museum will again be humming with activity.

Luke Schultz is director of facilities at Madison Children’s Museum in Madison, Wisconsin.

Read other articles in the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.”

Working from Home for a Museum with No Visitors: Front-Line Staff Stories

This article is part of the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.” Click here to read other articles in this issue.

By Mary Maher

On March 16, due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, DISCOVERY Children’s Museum (DCM) in Las Vegas, Nevada, closed. Some staff, who had been tracking local response to the pandemic wave, were not surprised; others were caught off-guard by the museum’s swift decision. At first, most staff, like most people in the U.S., thought their regional shutdown would be short—two weeks. At the time, even that seemed drastic, but no one was prepared for the lengthy unknown that has followed.

Daniela Flores-Bello, visitor services coordinator at DISCOVERY Children’s Museum

When the announcement came, all staff felt supported by a “heartfelt email” from museum CEO Melissa Kaiser assuring them that their jobs were safe, and that those who were able to work from home would be able to do so. Many of front-line staff’s extended families fortunately were able to keep their jobs as well, and even though other aspects of the quarantine, including juggling work and family responsibilities at home, were challenging, financial hardships did not immediately emerge.

This article shares the stories of the many DCM staff who deal daily and directly with museum visitors. From interns to learning educators to visitor services staff, how did they handle the quarantine. What did they learn about themselves, both personally and professionally, in this mandatory timeout? And how will they take this new knowledge back to their work with visitors since the museum reopened on July 2? 

Visitor Services Staff with No Visitors

Visitor services staff Ayesha Inayat: “Visitors make our job!” While most staff were grateful to able to work from home and regularly connect with coworkers through video team meetings and emails, all agreed it felt odd.

Lisa Esterkamp, assistant director of visitor services: “It was very weird. I deal primarily with the visitors, and I spend the majority of my time in very close physical contact with my team. It was a big adjustment to move to online/phone meetings and communication.”

Sales Coordinator Connor Tetter: “I didn’t realize how much I missed my coworkers until we were finally able to start returning to the building.”

But perhaps Marketing Content Specialist Jessica Duffin summed it up best: “The museum felt so lifeless without hundreds of kids running around. In a way, this has been a good reminder that, beyond exhibits and programs, kids give the museum its magic.”

Preparing for Reopening

Shortly after closing, however, museum staff began planning for the reopening, adhering to evolving state and local guidelines. Every aspect of the facility was cleaned and scrutinized for health and safety precautions related to COVID-19. Staff worked to close or adapt exhibits, make museum admissions reservation-only and establish capacity limits, and create new signage to (playfully) keep visitors informed about new rules.

Joselyn Gurrola, Learning Education Team member at DISCOVERY Children’s Museum

Floor staff, key in ensuring returning visitors stay safe while enjoying a much-needed return to fun, were involved from the beginning in reopening plans. Discovery Children’s Museum’s floor staff, known as the Learning Education Team, and members of the museum’s internship program, YouthWorks, worked along with other staff to create a plan. Before determining how to best support returning visitors, all staff were asked to think about what situations might arise and what new mindsets they might encounter among once familiar audiences, many venturing out for the first time.

Staff at all levels agreed that many families need a break and are eager to get out of the house and enjoy a relaxing and fun museum visit. Kids especially, cooped up for months, might be ready to really cut loose. Staff thought they would be dealing with a range of mindsets—from anxious parents needing reassurance about their and their children’s safety to those who seem unconcerned or resistant to following safety guidelines. It was agreed that every visitor would be treated with the same patience and empathy to ensure a great experience.

To that end, the museum created an Empathy Policy, guidelines created to assist staff in engaging with visitors in today’s sensitive climate. During its creation, following the popular notion that people will support what they help to create, all staff were encouraged to think about putting themselves in the shoes of the person with whom they’re engaging, and trying to understand their situation. For example, prior to closure, most interactions with visitors were brief. Coming out of lockdown, people might be eager to start talking again—to anyone—which could lead to them to confide their quarantine trials and tribulations to staff unprepared to deal with that level of personal information.

Lisa Esterkamp, assistant director of visitor services at DISCOVERY Children’s Museum

Lisa Esterkamp: “The guidelines document is more of an addendum to our current visitor engagement training. It takes a deeper dive into four topics we felt were the most important for today’s ‘new normal’: Empathy, Active Listening, Transparency, and Patience. Not only will we be interacting with visitors, who will all have different thoughts and feelings about current events, but our employees are also going through this as well and may need additional support to help navigate their own experience. It was important to create a training that prepares them for both visitor and team member interactions.

“The new document shows the team how to slow down and spend time with the visitors. Pre-pandemic, we were high traffic, often with a line out the door. Quick, friendly, and efficient engagement was a focus, because visitors waiting in long lines can have a negative experience. Now, with physical distancing and attendance caps, wait times are inevitable. We hope to use them as opportunities to spend quality time with our visitors, getting to know them, seeing how they’re doing, and asking how we can help. The greater, more personalized engagement we can deliver today will keep them coming back in the future.”

YouthWorks intern Nayeli Lara: “… during their visit, I want them to have the best day of their life for however long they stay. I’ll refrain from heavy conversations or topics and let them immerse themselves in whatever gallery I am in that day. So at least they can rest easy that night knowing they had an awesome day at the museum.”

Learning Education Team member Kurt True: “I’ve been concerned since the beginning of the shutdown that children, especially the younger ones, will think that they are responsible for the sudden radical changes that they’ve experienced in their lives since the middle of March. It’s not unusual for small children to engage in this kind of self-blame when they experience an unexpected loss, for instance when parents divorce, or a pet dies, or a family moves to a new neighborhood.

“Children experiencing that kind of self-blame can become socially withdrawn and often lose ground developmentally. All of us on the floor are going to have to give a lot of extra encouragement to children who’ve been emotionally impacted by enforced social distancing over the past few months, but also we need to remember that children who are having emotional or developmental difficulties are going to need time to find their way back to their respective baselines. We can’t force or coerce them back. The best we can do sometimes is be a calming presence.”

What We Learned about Ourselves

Working with a graphic design firm, DISCOVERY Children's Museum developed a playful approach to signage that reminds visitors of the new safety guidelines.
Working with a graphic design firm, DISCOVERY Children’s Museum developed a playful approach to signage that reminds visitors of the new safety guidelines.

Prior to pandemic closure, most museum staff who dealt directly with visitors agreed that working with visitors—especially kids—was the most rewarding part of their jobs. They loved helping a child learn a new skill or work through a knotty problem. They enjoyed helping parents and caregivers feel comfortable in the museum, ready to engage in learning activities with their kids or just have a fun, relaxing time. Even the occasional hard-to-please visitors, though sometimes challenging, inspired professional growth. For a few intern staff, it was sometimes nerve-wracking but ultimately gratifying to successfully deal with “codes” (direct radio messages to staff about serious problems in the museum, such as a missing child).

So, what was it like for people staff to suddenly be disconnected from their people? Again, although everyone was grateful to still be employed, it varied. Some staff were surprised at how much they enjoyed working from home; some felt even more productive working alone. But through technology, they were able to stay connected with and supported by their team members and leadership staff.

Ania Lopez: “I am most surprised at how I am still able to interact with guests through the museum’s website and social media pages. Personally, I am surprised at how creative I’ve become with my work-from-home assignments.” Many staff were also grateful to have work assignments that helped focus their day.

Alondra Rocha: “Six people, including me and my two older sisters plus two dogs sharing a two-bedroom house has taken a toll. My weekly museum assignments were fun and kept me feeling it would all go back to normal soon.”

Ayesha Inayat: “Working from home isn’t as fun as it was in the beginning. Staying home every day has been trying. But our team has come together in an astounding way. Our CEO continued to boost morale, letting us know that she valued all of our work. It definitely helped me feel good about the work that I was doing even though at home.”

For some, especially YouthWorks interns—high school students used to busy, but structured schedules—the change caused them to suddenly dig deep for personal motivations. Some were surprised and buoyed by discovering a continued interest in pursuing their goals; others experienced a mix of motivational levels, but relied on friends and family (and pets!) to get them back on track. A few enjoyed the lack of structure and social engagement that freed them up to pursue dormant interests.

But the majority were eager for the museum to reopen, for visitors to return, and for them to get back to what they love.

Akira Tate: “Fourteen weeks working from home has made me realize how much I miss being at the museum.”

Some staff have learned that working from home is probably not a future option they would willingly choose.

Nicholas Coffey: “I have learned that I will never voluntarily work from home. Turns out I need to leave the house to feel fulfilled.”

Otila Prive: “I realized how much of a positive mental impact work has on me. Being out and interacting with other people is something I didn’t know I would need so much. Staying in my house all day—and every day in the beginning—started to take a toll on me.”

Everyone expressed complete trust in the museum’s new cleaning, safety, and operational procedures.

Marina Chavez: “The museum is taking lots of precautions to make sure staff and visitors are safe, following the guidelines like checking everyone’s temperatures and making sure visitors and staff are using hand sanitizers. The museum is probably the safest place to go compared to other places.”

Kurt True: “Who or what has been most helpful to me during the quarantine? That’s easy. The Facilities staff. Without them, I wouldn’t have a job to go back to tomorrow.”

All staff are looking forward to reconnecting with visitors and with their coworkers. The silver lining, if there is one, of this sudden and extended personal and professional retreat is that floor staff and all staff who deal daily with visitors are eager to return to what they feel they excel at: helping children and their families have fun learning experiences at the museum. They feel prepared to deal with the new museum environment and supported by their directors and managers. The future is still uncertain. We are not back to “normal,” but for this group of Discovery Children’s Museum floor staff the pause has given them time to think about their roles on their teams and what they can now bring back to the museum and its visitors.

Ashten Davis: “…having just been at the museum for five days before we closed, the quarantine has been difficult in some aspects but I am excited to go back, and I am leaving quarantine a better person.”

Jessica Duffin: “These past few months have opened my eyes to just how lucky I am to work for the museum. Our higher ups, especially our CEO, have handled this shutdown with more compassion and grace than any of us could have wished for. From the very beginning, they made us feel important and that they were going to do whatever it took to protect our jobs and our pay during these difficult times. I love my job and what I do, but even more, I love the people I work for.”

Mary Maher is the editor and designer of Hand to Hand.

Thanks to Jodi Gutstein, director of marketing and communications at Discovery Children’s Museum, for collecting thoughts from the following staff members included in this article:

Ayesha Inayat, assistant manager of sales and visitor services and data specialist; Conner Tetter, sales coordinator; Daniela Flores-Bello, visitor services coordinator; Jessica Duffin, marketing content specialist; and Lisa Esterkamp, assistant director of visitor services.

Learning Education Team members: Ania Lopez, Ashten Davis, Emma Agundez, Joselyn Gurrola, Kurt True, Lexi Keaton, Lidia Macario, Mahaleah Murdock, Marina Chavez, Nicholas Coffey, Otila Prive, Samantha Sleigher, Serio Lopez

YouthWorks Interns: Akira Tate, Alondra Rocha, Angela January, Christian Manriquez, Clarisa Del Toro, Kahleia Corpuz, Nayeli Lara, Nigel Simon.

Read other articles in the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.”

Museums in a Pandemic: Impacts for Audiences & Partners

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.4, the fourth report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology. Read other reports in this series: ACM Trends Report 4.1, “Snapshots of Impact, ACM Trends Report 4.2, “Financial Impacts by Mid-May 2020,” and ACM Trends Report 4.3, “Workforce Impacts.”

The ACM Trends Reports team is exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s museums. By mid-May, museums experimented with strategies and methods for connecting with two groups of stakeholders: audiences and institutional partners. This report describes the outcomes for museums’ work with their members and visitors, as well as new and existing institutional collaborators.

The data is based on responses to a survey conducted in mid-May 2020. Overall, 109 US-based children’s museums and 6 non-US museums were represented in the survey responses. The survey data shows that children’s museums were assessing ways to support their audiences as they: planned to reopen facilities to visitors, produced high quality programming for both members and general audiences, and communicated with these groups. At the same time, half of participating museums also tried to find support for their own institution by developing new or enhancing existing partnerships.

This report is the fourth in an ACM Trends series exploring the early impacts of COVID-19 on the field. ACM Trends Report #4.1 provided a quick snapshot of the early impacts, Trends Report #4.2 described financial impacts, and Trends Report #4.3 explored impacts on the museum workforce. We will continue to monitor the pandemic’s impacts on the field.

ACM Trends #4.4

By mid-May, children’s museums worked hard to engage two main groups outside of their personnel: their audiences and other organizations.

Serving Audiences

As of mid-May, children’s museums were testing multiple strategies to serve their audiences, while navigating staffing and financial impacts of the pandemic. These strategies focused on general reopening plans, members, and online offerings.

In the survey, 39% of museums reported a planned date for re-opening their buildings to visitors. Of these, most planned to reopen in summer 2020, and only one planned to reopen in 2021. Museum leaders considered a variety of tactics for operations during reopening, which included timed ticketing, member-only and member-first openings, and augmented safety procedures. However, at this point, most institutions were still in early stages of preparing for reopening and could not yet identify a date. Some directors participating in ACM Leadership Calls asserted that just because state regulations signaled they could reopen, it did not mean they should do so.

Museum leaders identified a range of factors that influenced plans for reopening their facilities to the public. Some cited uncertainty about finances and their capacity to meet cleaning and safety protocols. At this time, museum leaders reported seeing inconsistent guidelines from governing bodies or a lack of official instruction for reopening children’s museums. Some museums surveyed audiences to understand their concerns and interests related to reopening.


By mid-May, most children’s museums were adapting membership policies and plans. Nearly all participating museums (93%) extended renewal dates for memberships. A quarter of museums also expanded the benefits offered for members, such as access to exclusive content and priority admission upon re-opening. Five museums reported providing full or partial refunds for membership dues – of these, an average of 8% of dues were refunded by each institution. Two Large museums donated memberships to essential workers for every new membership purchased.

Online Audiences

At the same time, museums invested heavily in providing online content for both members and general audiences. In a review of children’s museums’ websites, we found that 101 out of 109 participating institutions presented online activities on their websites and social media platforms. Two types of programming stood out: over two-thirds of participating children’s museums offered online programs focusing on STEAM, as well as arts and crafts. Just under half of the institutions provided Story Time activities. Other less common programs featured animals or nature, music, and movement or exercise.

All participating institutions offered information on online programming through their websites. Almost all (98%) provided details on their Facebook pages, about 70% presented information on Instagram and Twitter, and about 40% shared on YouTube. Resources were typically presented as either online web resources, downloadable content, or recorded programming. Fourteen of the participating museums offered live virtual programming through Facebook Live, Instagram, Periscope, and YouTube.

Figure 1. Proportion of communication methods used by museums for members and general visitors / audiences.

Note. n = 109 for members and visitors.


Children’s museums used a variety of communication channels to connect with their members and general audiences. These channels were similar across the two groups, with some small differences that likely depended on typical ways that museums interact with these groups. For members, nearly all museums used email. About three-quarters made social media announcements, and more than half posted announcements on their websites. Meanwhile, for communications with general audiences, museums mostly relied on social media and website announcements, followed by email.

New & Existing Partnerships

Children’s museums invested in new or updated institutional collaborations to navigate the pandemic. Just over half of participating museums (n = 57) reported establishing new or expanding existing collaborations. Of these, half of the museums partnered on the local level.

Far fewer were state-level or nationally focused, and many didn’t specify the scale of their collaborations.

Museum leaders developed new collaborations or adapted existing ones with the ultimate goal of supporting the institutions as they navigated the crisis. They used several different strategies to accomplish this goal. About a third of participating museums, across all size categories, pursued partnerships to share resources and information, including general best practices, planning, and funding. A quarter of museums focused collaborations on planning specifically related to the pandemic, particularly facility reopening procedures. Another quarter collaborated with goals related to content development, including designing curriculum and program implementation. Other less common objectives included cross-promotions and outreach, advocacy and work around local issues, and collaborative fundraising.

Most frequently, museums of all sizes collaborated with other museums in their cities and towns. They also partnered with other types of organizations, like economic development agencies, local attractions, and other non-profits. Less common collaborations were with schools or education departments, as well as local governments.


During a mass crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be tempting to narrow an institution’s focus on the “basics” that might seem more easily manageable. However, the definition of children’s museums’ basic services needs to be reexamined. Moreover, the “who” involved in these services should be considered as well.

Museums do not need to weather the pandemic alone. Research across many sectors shows that collaboration strengthens partner organizations and benefits their audiences. As museum leaders examine new ways to pursue their mission of supporting children and families, they should consider themselves as part of the ecosystem of services that meet community needs. This ecosystem will function better when the various parts are coordinating their actions and supporting each other’s work.

The Takeaway

The pandemic will continue to unfold, and effects will ripple across the world for years to come. During this process, each community’s needs will evolve.

This crisis has underscored the need for children’s museums to think of themselves as closely linked to other children’s services and programs. Attending to community needs and aspirations can be a shared effort with, for example, schools and other social services groups. Programming can be designed as a complement or extension of offerings that others are providing in their communities. Leaders can ask: What are children’s museums suited to address that schools might struggle to provide? What other new roles might children’s museums fill during this crisis and beyond? Who is in need of support that can be met by the resources of a children’s museum? To answer these questions and more, museum leaders can join or create a collaborative working group to analyze gaps and opportunities in local public education systems and community services. This work not only enhances services for children and families across the community, but also reduces overlap in different organizations’ work.

In a similar vein, this crisis can help children’s museums identify new partnerships with organizations that have historically gone their own way. Public libraries and soup kitchens in particular might be effective partners for museums to pursue their mission of supporting children and families. These partnerships can also help museums make strong appeals to funders.

When museums are able to invest in partnerships, consider how to approach communications with new and existing audiences. It may be that social media, email, and website announcements don’t work well for new audiences, particularly if they lack consistent access to internet. Collaborations may also be a good opportunity for sharing communication responsibilities across organizations. Partners may have different communication strengths and preferences, which museums can tap into as they offer their own preferred methods.

About This Research

Data for this report was collected by an online survey distributed by ACM through an email invitation to children’s museums worldwide. The survey was open between May 7 and 18, 2020. Overall, 109 US-based children’s museums and 6 non-US museums contributed to the dataset. All participating US museums were currently ACM member institutions, representing 36% of membership. Participating museums were roughly representative of all size categories.

The information about types of online programming was collected in a manual review of websites and social media for the children’s museums that participated in the survey. ACM staff coded the types of programs based on common themes and refined the themes into meaningful categories. ACM staff also provided information about museum leaders’ considerations related to reopening facilities to the public.

Figure 1 shows average responses to questions about methods used to communicate with members and visitors. Responses were consistent across size categories, unless otherwise noted.

A researcher reviewed open-ended responses from the survey and coded themes in an iterative process to summarize information on partnerships. The initial coding process produced a large number of codes, and subsequent coding led to aggregated and more meaningful themes.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

Museums in a Pandemic: Workforce Impacts

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.3, the third report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology. Read other reports in this series: ACM Trends Report 4.1, “Snapshots of Impact, ACM Trends Report 4.2, “Financial Impacts by Mid-May 2020,” and ACM Trends Report 4.4, “Impacts for Audiences and Partners.”

The ACM Trends Reports team is exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s museums. By mid-May, many museums had adjusted aspects of their staffing to navigate the early implications of the unfolding situation. This report describes effects related to full-time and part-time staff, as well as volunteers, and implications for the children’s museums workforce.

The data comes from responses to a special survey conducted in mid-May 2020. Overall, 109 US-based children’s museums and 6 non-US museums were represented in the survey responses. We found that, at that point, most full- time employees had either no change to their employment or reduced hours, whereas most part-time employees were laid off or furloughed. Museums communicated in different ways and to varying extents with volunteers and staff that had been laid off or furloughed. The findings offer opportunities for children’s museums to reflect on staffing decisions, as well as their communication styles and goals.

This report is the third in Volume 4 of the ACM Trends Report series, which studies the early impacts of COVID-19 on the field. ACM Trends Report #4.1 provided a quick snapshot of the early impacts, and Trends Report #4.2 described financial impacts. Trends Report #4.4 will explore early impacts on visitors, members, and partners. We will continue to monitor the pandemic’s impacts on the field over time.

ACM Trends #4.3

The children’s museums’ workforce is critical to the operation of institutions and the success of the field. We explored this idea in ACM Trends Report #1.10, which showed that, on average in 2016, 76% of children’s museum personnel consisted of volunteers, 16% were part-time staff, and 8% were full-time staff. On average, each of these groups devote different amounts of time to working at children’s museums, with full-time staff contributing the highest number of hours. The following findings focus on US museums unless otherwise noted.

Figure 1. The proportion of employment statuses for full time and part-time staff for children’s museums in mid-May.

The May 2020 survey showed that children’s museums made staffing adjustments in response to the pandemic, which affected workers in different ways. Figure 1 shows that, on average, full-time employees were the least likely to be dramatically affected by staffing changes, with over two-thirds having hours reduced or no changes to their employment. However, about 80% of part-time staff were furloughed or laid off. Overall, 36% of participating children’s museums laid off or furloughed staff. By comparison, 44% of museums of all types said they laid off or furloughed staff in a June survey (AAM, 2020).

The actions taken by children’s museums varied greatly, with some laying off or furloughing almost all their staff while others made few changes. The averages were generally consistent across size categories, though Small museums were the least likely to cut full-time staff. When we compare the financial impacts described in ACM Trends Report #4.2 to staffing impacts, there is no reliable relationship between relief funding received or the size of the museum to the proportion of staff laid off or furloughed. This suggests that the decision to change staffing appears to depend on the conditions surrounding each museum.

Two factors may have influenced these conditions. First, the Small Business Administration was in the process of disbursing Paycheck Protection Program funds around the time of this survey. (ACM Trends Report #4.2 showed that these funds were the most commonly received among children’s museums.) Museums that had recently received relief funds may not have made rehiring decisions by the time of the survey. Second, some leaders reported in ACM Leadership Calls that they made decisions about layoffs and furloughs based on whether they anticipated their part-time staff would receive unemployment benefits; in these cases, museums tried to prioritize their full-time staff as they planned how to use relief funding.

Staffing and operations decisions today seem to match historical patterns in museum hiring, and may have lasting negative impacts for children’s museums and the broader museum field. Media reports suggest that museum layoffs and furloughs are most likely to first affect lower paid floor or frontline staff, including visitor services workers and educators. These positions also tend to be filled by museums’ most racially and ethnically diverse professionals. Widescale layoffs of these individuals may affect perceptions of a museum’s concern for staff, as well as affect the field’s ability to attract talent in the future.

New Roles, Duties, & Services

As the shape of day-to-day business has evolved, most participating children’s museums (n = 80) reported experimenting with reassigning personnel to new roles and duties by mid-May. As museums reopen throughout the summer, these reassignments are evolving and will be reported on in future reports.

For half of respondents, the majority of these reassignments focused on two connected responsibilities. First, staff reassigned to programming have produced and delivered new learning and experiential content, including videos. Second, reassigned personnel have also focused on creating online content for websites and social media.

The next most common duty for reassigned personnel was operations, though it was far less common than programming and online content. Staff reassigned to operations worked on fundraising, accounting, general administration, and management.

Some children’s museums – primarily Medium and Large organizations (n = 5 and 13, respectively) – looked outside of their staff to contract services for their institution and personnel. The most common reason for these services was to obtain legal advice. Other services were related to human resources, as well as physical and mental health services. Museums outside of the US also reported using these contract services.

Communicating with Personnel

Many museums kept lines of communication open with laid off and furloughed staff as well as volunteers. Of the 75 institutions that laid off or furloughed staff, 59 institutions explained the goal of their ongoing communications with personnel. About half of these museums, across all sizes, used communications to provide general museum updates, which focused on the institution’s status, leaders’ decision-making, reopening plans, and funding status. A third indicated their goal was

to discuss future staffing plans, including updates on when they plan to rehire or revise staffing structures. Roughly a fourth said their goal was to sustain engagement with staff, using check-ins to convey both the museum’s interest in their return to work, and the value of personnel to the museum. Three museums, one in each size category, indicated that they sought to provide emotional support to laid off and furloughed staff in their communications.

When communicating with volunteers, the most common goals were to continue engagement and provide updates about the museum.

Figure 2. Proportion of communication methods used by museums for furloughed / laid off staff and volunteers.

Note. n = 65 museums contacted laid off and furloughed staff. n = 54 museums contacted volunteers.

We also asked museums about the communication methods they use and how often; this information adds nuance to the reasons for communication decisions.

Figure 2 shows the ways that children’s museums communicated with personnel whose work had been substantially altered by mid-May, particularly staff who were laid off or furloughed as well as volunteers.

Of the 75 institutions that laid off or furloughed staff, 65 were communicating with those individuals. The most common method of communication, for two-thirds of museums, was to use personal email accounts and about half through text messages. To a lesser extent, they also used telephone and video calls.

Participating museums communicated less with volunteers. Only 54 of the 109 participating museums indicated that they communicated with volunteers at all. Telephone calls and personal emails were used by half of the 54 museums that responded, with the third most popular method being the use of institutional email accounts. At the time of the survey, nine institutions had no contact of any type with personnel whose work had been impacted by the pandemic.

The Takeaway

Decisions about personnel may be among the most important and complex issues that children’s museums navigate during the pandemic. The early data from May 2020 show there are opportunities for supporting staff and volunteers in ways that benefit both museums and workers throughout the crisis.

The survey data suggest many museums may be missing a chance to engage their volunteers, a group that makes up the largest portion of personnel at children’s museums. There may be tasks that volunteers can do at home, particularly in support of the personnel who have been reassigned to producing programming and online content. Even if volunteers cannot be engaged in the work of the museum right now, regular communications can help reinforce their value to the organization. By mid-May, most of children’s museums’ full-time staff were employed, even though some had reduced hours. Part-time staff, however, were much more widely affected by layoffs and furloughs. There is potential for these changes to undermine museums’ efforts to work towards diversity and inclusion in their workforce. As leaders weigh future personnel changes, they should consider how to proactively address and support groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic as part of their efforts to meet the needs of their communities.

These early data suggest that museum leadership should carefully consider how to use workforce communications strategies to lay the foundation for recovery. Supportive messaging with museums’ community of staff and volunteers can not only deliver on their mission, but also strengthen equity throughout the pandemic.

About This Research

Data for this report was collected by an online survey distributed by ACM through an email invitation to children’s museums worldwide. The survey was open between May 7 and 18, 2020. Overall, 109 US-based children’s museums and 6 non-US museums contributed to the dataset. All participating US museums were currently ACM member institutions, representing 36% of membership. Participating museums were roughly representative of all size types.

Figures 1 and 2 show average responses to questions about status of staff, and methods used to communicate with staff and volunteers. Responses were consistent across size categories, unless otherwise noted. For Figure 1, we asked museums about the proportions of staff that had been furloughed, laid off, reduced hours, and kept at their normal hours. Proportions were required to sum to 100%.

A researcher reviewed open-ended responses from the survey and coded themes in an iterative process to summarize data on reassigned duties, roles, and services, as well as goals of communications with cut staff and volunteers. The initial coding process produced a large number of codes, and subsequent coding led to aggregated and more meaningful themes.


American Alliance of Museums. (2020). A Snapshot of US Museums’ Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://www.aam- us.org/2020/07/22/a-snapshot-of-us-museums-response-to-the-covid-19- pandemic/

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

#InviteCongress for an August Visit

This post was written in collaboration with the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) and is cross posted on the ASTC blog.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on children’s museums, science and technology centers and museums, natural history museums, and museums with hands-on exhibits. Our field is beginning to get a sense of what the coming months and years will bring as the severe impacts of the pandemic continue beyond what was originally anticipated. In addition, much of the immediate federal relief—which has been a lifeline for many institutions—is coming to an end, even though a return to normal operations is a long way off.

ACM, along with other national museums associations such as the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), the Association of Science Museum Directors (ASMD), and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), continues to tell the story of the pandemic’s impact on our members across the country. Your institution can play an important role by showing elected officials how these national issues are affecting their districts and their voters.

We encourage you to invite your Members of Congress for a virtual or in-person visit this August, so that they can hear your story and see how you continue to serve your community. You’ll be joining hundreds of other museums who participate in #InviteCongress—a national field-wide effort led by AAM and supported by a number of other national museum associations—to encourage and empower museums of all types and sizes to invite legislators to visit museums across the U.S.

Organizing a Visit

During August, Congress is expected to be on recess for much of the month, meaning that your Representative and Senators are likely to be in their home districts:

Visits by Members of Congress and their staff can be done virtually or, where it is prudent to do so, in person. AAM has prepared step-by-step guidance on how to draft and manage an invitation, design an itinerary, and prepare for the visit. Get your invitation out soon, as Members’ calendars may fill up quickly!

Federal Funding Can Provide Relief During the Pandemic

While the majority of institutions in our community do not receive regular or substantial federal funding, many did receive lifeline support from federal COVID-19 relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). However, those museums that received PPP loans have generally already exhausted those limited-time funds. Some museums, such as government- and university-affiliated museums, needed PPP funding, but were not eligible because their parent organizations were too large.

Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) all received funding to distribute via grants to museums, but these funding programs were small in scope.

Without additional substantial support from the federal government, our community remains at risk for permanent closures.

What’s Next for COVID-19 Relief?

Congress is expected to negotiate and pass another COVID-19 relief bill before the August recess. While ACM and other national museums associations have requested that Congress include a number of provisions to benefit our community, including museum-specific relief, expansion and extension of PPP, and more, it is unknown whether they will be included in this next bill.

As future relief legislation is being considered, we need to be certain that it benefits all museums. There are also opportunities for Congress to provide support through the normal budgeting process for fiscal year (FY) 2021, which will begin on October 1, 2020.

Regular Funding for Federal Agencies Remains Unresolved

While attention has been focused on COVID-19 relief, several key federal agencies can still support the museum field through their regular annual budget allocations or through additional stimulus funding. These include the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), NASA, the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Congress has yet to decide on FY 2021 funding levels, so for those institutions that regularly receive funding from these agencies, showing Members of Congress the impact and importance of federal funding will help keep our community’s needs front of mind as they move through the FY 2021 appropriations process.

National Advocacy Work

ACM is a part of a broader coalition of museum associations advocating for Congress to create a $6 billion relief fund for museums. The coalition continues to work with other national nonprofit organizations to advocate for continued emergency relief funding, such as extending and expanding PPP, providing access to low-cost loans for midsize and large nonprofits that have not been able to access federal relief funding, and enacting and expanding grant and funding programs that help nonprofits retain employees, scale service delivery, and create new jobs. Learn more about past advocacy actions on ACM’s COVID-19 Advocacy webpage.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. With its members and partners, the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) works towards a vision of increased understanding of—and engagement with—science and technology among all people. Follow ASTC on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Reopening with Equity in Mind

Jump to a Section
Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums, Cultural Competence Learning Institute
Embedding DEAI in Strategic Planning, High Desert Museum
The Three Bears Model: Identifying Just Right Partnerships, Chicago Children’s Museum
Mobilizing Your Museum to Be a Resource for Equity, Cincinnati Museum Center
Conclusion and Resources

Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, museums—like so many other institutions and sectors—are being asked to reimagine themselves: Will hands-on exhibits ever be the same? When and how can we reopen safely for our staff and our visitors? In the face of these existential questions, how can we keep equity front and center?

CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute) is a partnership between  Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group. On May 19, CCLI hosted the webinar, “Reopening with Equity in Mind: Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums.” CCLI operates on the idea that success for museums in the 21st century will depend on embracing organizational change, allowing organizations to meaningfully connect with their community.

Cecilia Garibay, President of, Garibay Group shared a framework for grounding DEAI efforts in concrete areas of operations for rebuilding with an equity lens, drawing from CCLI’s National Landscape Study: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) Practices in Museums (Garibay and Olson, forthcoming).

CCLI’s key definitions surrounding equity work:
Diversity encompasses all those differences that make us unique, including but not limited to race, color, ethnicity, language, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, socio-economic status, age, and physical and mental ability.  A diverse group, community or organization is one in which a variety of social and cultural characteristics exist.
Equity acknowledges differences in privilege, access, and need, and supports space for appropriate adaptation and accommodation.
Inclusion denotes an environment where each individual member of a diverse group feels valued, is able to fully develop his or her potential and contributes to the organization’s success.

Find more definitions at the CCLI website.

Garibay noted that the concept of equity can often feel abstract and even aspirational, but when we recognize that structural and historical barriers and systems of opression are at the root, it allows us to consider how we can begin to affect and change those systems and structures. She described how organizational change frameworks that look at systems and operational structures can help to create and measure change toward DEAI. The Burke-Litwin Causal Model of Organizational Change (Burke & Litwin, 1992; Martins & Coetzee, 2009) identifies three interrelated “factors” for change:

  • Individual & Personal (i.e. individual skills, motivation, needs, and values)
  • Transactional (i.e. organizational practice)
  • Transformational (long-term, core ways of thinking around mission and strategy).

Garibay pointed out that DEAI efforts often focus on the personal level using diversity workshops, implicit bias trainings, and other methods to support individual on their cultural competence journey. These strategies, however, ignore institutional levers critical for sustainable change and informing equity-focused organizational practices.

“I want to start by making it clear what an opportunity all of us have ahead of us. Our organizations are going to be community responders. Our first responders have been out there saving lives. And it’s our turn to move in when we can reopen as community responders to the pandemic, getting ready to help rebuild community and connection.”

Dana Whitelaw, High Desert Museum

Museum Practice for Reopening with Equity in Mind

Museum leaders from CCLI alumni organizations offered reflections on how they are thinking about equity amidst this pandemic.

Embedding DEAI in Strategic Planning

Dana Whitelaw, Executive Director, High Desert Museum (Bend, Oregon) 

The High Desert Museum, an interdisciplinary museum in Bend, Oregon, grounds all areas of their operations in an equity lens, both internally and externally. Dana Whitelaw discussed how this affects her museum’s strategic planning and approach to staffing and skilling up.

Pandemic Strategic Plan: The museum has created a pandemic strategic plan that sits alongside their pre-existing five year strategic plan. They have three phases over the next 12-18 months:

  • Closure (3-4 months)
  • Reopening (6-8 months)
  • Rebuilding (12-18 months)

During this time of closure, the museum is working to embed equity into all facets of reopening:

Admissions: How can your museum ensure access for a wide audience after reopening? Existing access programs, such as Museums for All, rely on walk-in admissions. If we reopen using timed ticketing, online sales, and cashless payment, how will our front desk processes continue to have an equity model?

Membership: Membership is seen as a privilege – how can we make it accessible?
How can you use membership to build more access? The High Desert Museum is working with partner organizations, starting with our hospital, to gift a community membership to frontline workers (e.g. nurses and grocery store workers) for each new or renewed membership.

Programming: How can you ensure your upcoming programming is inclusive?
The High Desert Museum is collecting stories from the pandemic experience for a future exhibit. They’re reaching out to community partners to ensure they feature and include a diverse set of stories.

Staffing: How can you skill up your staff to align with community needs?

You can build an equity approach into all levels of your organization. With governance, what board-level skills are needed for reopening? With staffing, how can you scale up to be relevant and responsive to new community needs?

The Three Bears Model: Identifying Just Right Partnerships

Jennifer Farrington, President and CEO, Chicago Children’s Museum (Chicago, Illinois) 

When Chicago Children’s Museum closed its doors due to COVID-19, it could not fulfill its mission to promote joyful learning by serving children and families to the museum in the same ways it had done before. President and CEO Jennifer Farrington shared how the museum identified new strategies to meet their mission, by authentically leveraging local partnerships to distribute resources to their community.

Museums do not serve communities alone, but rather as part of a web of individuals, organizations, and community partners. How can your museum work within this ecosystem to offer support and resources to communities? For those museums that feel they do not have resources to share, Farrington noted that with an abundance mindset, our institutions have extraordinary resources from our organizational values and integrity to key community relationships.

How to Approach Authentic Partnership:

1. Do an honest assessment of your museum’s capacity.
In this moment, museums can’t fulfill all their relationship obligations, and they also can’t serve their entire audiences. How can you ensure you make a meaningful impact without spreading yourself too thin? Consider focusing on three to four areas of work to increase impact, maybe even focusing on the most directly impacted communities around your museum. Being honest about what you can do helps set realistic expectations with your partners and offer internal clarity and focus.

2. Reach out with sensitivity and integrity.
Many community partners are on the front lines serving communities affected by the pandemic, and may not have the capacity to engage with your museum. How do you ensure you approach your partners and the people you serve with integrity and in equitable partnership?

  • Is your partner organization in a place to receive your message, or are they in a crisis mode?
  • What goals do you share? What can each organization bring to the table to accomplish those shared goals?
  • How can you work with partners to develop content together, rather than present “the baked cake”? How can the process itself be collaborative?
  • Ask your partners: What’s changed [in recent weeks]? Who at your organization has the capacity to discuss this project? How do the communities you work with want to be involved? 

Following the “three bears” approach, Chicago Children’s Museum is working with long-time partner Chicago Public Library to distribute activity kits to 10,000 families, with funding from the Education Equity COVID-19 Response Fund.

Mobilizing Your Museum to Be a Resource for Equity

Elizabeth Pierce, President & CEO, Cincinnati Museum Center (Cincinnati, Ohio)

When Cincinnati Museum Center closed due to the pandemic on March 14, 2020, it moved directly to be in even more active conversation with its community partners to hear what is most helpful for them in moving through the pandemic. By situating themselves as one node in a larger ecosystem, they have been able to be responsive and adaptive to community needs. How can your museum partner in your local social service landscape? President and CEO Elizabeth Pierce identified additional strategies for serving as a resource even when your doors are closed:

Adapting Programming to Address Isolation
This is a time of isolation for many communities, especially those who do not have access to online resources and technologies.

  • How can your museum help to lessen feelings of isolation?
  • How can we push out information across many technological differences?

In addition to online programming, can your museum organize analog conference calls or facilitate software that allows people to call into conferences, meetings, and presentations without an internet connection?

Cincinnati Museum Center organized analog conference calls to present curator talks.

Cincinnati Museum Center is also collecting reflections from the graduating class of 2020 as well as other constituencies. They plan to reflect this back to their community with future exhibits and programming when the museum reopens. At that time, they’ll invite respondents back.

Leveraging Your Building
While your museum may not be able to reopen, its building, parking lot, and other spaces may allow your institution to serve as a socially-distanced convener.

  • Can you act as a distribution center for a food bank?  
  • Are there opportunities to work with public schools?

Cincinnati Museum Center used its parking lot to host a drive-through graduation ceremony for a local high school.


As you consider these questions for your museum in moving forward, remember these ways of approaching this work from Dana Whitelaw, Executive Director, High Desert Museum:

  • You can ground yourself in your mission and vision statements as a lens for making decisions.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • Approach this time with abundance. While the pandemic can push feelings of scarcity, remember that museums are abundant in creativity and organizational purpose. Let’s put that to work to rebuild our organizations and communities.

“Some things are not answered yet, things are in motion. That’s true for our entire [museum] community. We’re in search of some concrete answers, but we’re not in the place yet in this experience where we can get there. We’re creating those realities.”

Laura Huerta Migus, Executive Director, Association of Children’s Museums



Burke, W.W.,  &  Litwin,  G.H.  (1992). A  causal  model  of  organisational    performance    and    change.  Journal of Management, 8(3), 523–546.

Garibay, C. and Olson, J.M. (forthcoming). CCLI national landscape survey: A conversation about the state of DEAI in Museums.

Martins, N., & Coetzee, M. (2009). Applying the Burke-Litwin model as a diagnostic framework for assessing organizational effectiveness. SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 7(1), 1–13.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramCultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI) is a partnership between the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group.

Museums in a Pandemic: Financial Impacts by Mid-May 2020

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.2, the second report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology. Read other reports in this series: ACM Trends Report 4.1, “Snapshots of Impact, ACM Trends Report 4.3, “Workforce Impacts,” and ACM Trends Report 4.4, “Impacts for Audiences and Partners.”

In March 2020, it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a deep and lasting impact on the museum field. The ACM Trends Reports team investigated the effects on children’s museums with a special survey in mid-May 2020. Overall, 109 US-based children’s museums and six non-US museums were represented in the survey responses.

The data provides a snapshot of the field in the early stages of navigating financial sustainability in the face of a global crisis. We compared the COVID- 19 survey data to information we’ve collected in the past about museum size – specifically, 2016 institutional data adjusted for inflation. This Trends Report can inform the steps that museum leaders take as the effects of the pandemic continue to ripple across systems and people that make up the field. In particular, this information can help leaders advocate for support from funders and policymakers. Future reports in this volume will examine other topics, such as staffing and engagement with audiences.

This Trends Report shows that relief funding through the US Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was an essential support tool for children’s museums early in the pandemic. Overall, PPP and other relief funds helped cover the majority of Small museums’ general expenses. Medium museums, on the other hand, were able to cover a much smaller portion of their overall expenses with relief funds, and will require other sources of funding. Large museums did somewhat better than Medium institutions but still need additional support, with reported funding covering about half of overall expenses.

Number of US children's museums that requested and received different types of relief funds
Figure 1. Number of US children’s museums that requested and received different types of relief funds.

Overall, museums most commonly applied for and received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program. Of the 109 children’s museums participating in the survey, 101 requested PPP funding and 95 received it. At the time of the survey, this funding program was designed to keep employees on the payroll for eight weeks, and could be used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. Another program of the US Small Business Administration, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, provided loans and advances to 22 participating children’s museums, out of 39 that requested these funds. There have been reports of delays in processing EIDL applications, which may explain the gap between requested and awarded funds.

Private foundations proved to be a substantial source of relief funding for children’s museums. Half of the participating museums (n = 55) applied to private foundations for funds, and 34 received support. Three children’s museums outside of the US reported applying for and receiving funding from private sources.

About one-third of participating children’s museums applied for funding from state arts and humanities councils, which received funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities through the CARES Act. At the time of the survey, many of these grants had not yet been awarded.

Experimenting with Funding Sources

Participating museums also reported experimenting with other forms of financial relief fundraising. These strategies appeared to vary across size categories. Medium and

Large museums most commonly sought donations through appeals to corporate funders, members, boards, and other sources. These institutions also described creating fundraising events and activities like galas and fund drives, as well as online campaigns. Some institutions, primarily Medium museums, also tried to generate revenue through selling products (e.g., online gift shops). Small museums tried to raise money through donations and revising their existing funds. Medium and Large museums revised existing funds as well, which included accelerating annual gifts, reallocating funds, and tapping into reserve funds. Seventeen museums, across all sizes, reported doing Giving Tuesday Now campaigns. Two museums indicated they were using their physical space to generate supplemental revenue. As some museums tried to raise funds, others engaged in fiscally conservative strategies such as postponing capital projects and cutting non-essential spending. Some reorganized staffing, which we’ll examine in a future ACM Trends Report.

Of the 109 surveyed museums, only one Large museum received financial support from insurance, under a disaster relief policy.

Size & Amount of Relief Funding

Museum size predicted the amount of funding received, as well as the proportion of expenses covered by that funding. Relief funds appeared to be commensurate with the size of participating children’s museums, with Small museums receiving the smallest amounts, and so on.

However, there’s a different story when we compare the amount of relief funds to the proportion of expenses that those funds could potentially cover.

According to Table 1, Small museums were most likely to have a majority of their expenses offset by relief funds.

Medium museums had the lowest rate of offsetting expenses with relief funds, with only 36% of quarterly overall expenses covered. Large museums did somewhat better, with 45% of their quarterly general expenses offset by relief funds.

Table 1. Proportion of expenses offset by relief funds

National Industry Trends in Funding

We assessed how relief funding for the children’s museums field compared to national statistics for the leisure industry. As of the time of the survey in May 2020, PPP funding was the most commonly received financial relief. At that point in time, the Small Business Administration had provided a total of $7.6B to the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry, of which museums are a part (Small Business Administration, 2020). The average institution in this industry received $73,100 in PPP loans. Children’s museums participating in the survey had received a comparable amount, with an average of $78,750 in PPP relief funds.

The Takeaway

As the pandemic continues to shift the landscape, children’s museums will need to fundraise and experiment with new funding sources. Two federal sources were generally supportive to the field – PPP and EIDL – and private funds provided a substantial amount of support as of mid-May. We anticipate that other sources will prove useful to children’s museums as we continue to monitor financial impacts of the pandemic.

Some museums have been successful with attempts to increase revenue through selling products, using their facilities for novel purposes, and collaborations. These approaches may become more important as time goes on, and institutions might consider new ways of meeting their stakeholders’ needs. While this work may not always build revenue, it will support children’s museums’ missions of service to their communities and may help them make the case for new funding from other sources.

Leaders should take their institution’s size into account when they consider how and where to fundraise. Medium and Large museums can appeal to funders by highlighting the lack of coverage for expenses in early rounds of funding.

About This Research

Data for this report was collected by an online survey distributed by ACM through an email invitation to children’s museums worldwide. The survey was open between May 7 and 18, 2020. Overall, 109 US-based children’s museums and six non-US museums contributed to the dataset. All participating US museums were currently ACM member institutions, representing 36% of membership.

Our analysis used the size categories of Small, Medium, Large, which were originally presented in ACM Trends Reports #1.1 and #1.7. We use these categories to frame our analysis for many reports in the ACM Trends series because institutional size predicts a range of outcomes for children’s museums. Participating museums in the May 2020 survey were roughly representative of the size categories.

The survey asked about a range of relief funding sources that children’s museums had pursued. Figure 1 presents the current results for those sources that had disbursed funds at the time of the survey. We will continue to track this information over time.

For the information about experimenting with funding, a researcher reviewed open-ended responses from the survey and coded themes in an iterative process to summarize the data. The initial coding process produced a large number of codes, and subsequent coding led to aggregated and more meaningful themes related to new approaches to fundraising.

For Table 1, we combined all types of funding, even though some funds had restrictions on how they could be used. The survey did not seek detail on restrictions, so a combined approach provided a general sense of the funding received, compared to the expenses that could be offset. Median quarterly expenses for each museum size were taken from 2016 ACM data and adjusted for inflation.


U.S. Small Business Administration. (2020). Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Report: Approvals through 5/30/2020. U.S. Small Business Administration. https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/PPP_Report_200530-508.pdf

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

On the Physical Reopening of Children’s Museums

Children’s museums’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic was swift and responsible: to close their doors as soon as the threat posed to public health became clear. By March 19, all U.S. children’s museums and most around the world closed the doors to their physical facilities for the health and wellbeing of their visitors and staff. But their work did not stop. Indeed, children’s museums—known for their dedication to materials-based, hands-on learning and exploration—pivoted to provide these experiences in new and innovative ways.

More than one hundred days since the closing of the field’s physical facilities, policymakers are establishing reopening plans for a variety of public facilities. How children’s museums are considered in these plans varies widely across jurisdictions. In some, they are included in early phases of reopening, and in others, they’re very last. This variation and lack of clarity in local mandates has created an ambiguous and difficult operational landscape for children’s museums to chart out viable strategies for delivering on their missions to engage children and families in child-centered learning experiences.

Every children’s museum draws from professional practice, core values, and operational assets to define its own destiny in the face of the ongoing catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether that means working toward a physical reopening of their facilities for visitors, or committing to an extended physical closure, children’s museums are making informed decisions to ensure their own survival and, most importantly, to continue to serve their communities across the Four Dimensions of Children’s Museum Operations.

Children’s museums pursuing reopening of their physical facilities are…

  • Following reopening guidelines from their local governments (e.g., city, county, state).
  • Surveying visitors to determine if and how they should reopen. They are also surveying visitors after the visit to understand if they felt safe and enjoyed the experience.
  • Intensifying their already rigorous sanitation and hygiene practices to keep staff and visitors safe.
  • Often implementing capacity limits lower than existing mandates in the name of safety.
  • Exploring a variety of approaches to reopening their physical facilities, including:
    • Implementing timed-entry for visits.
    • Limiting access to only a portion of physical facilities (e.g., outdoors only, limited number of exhibits, one-way paths through museum).

Children’s museums committing to extended closure of their physical facilities are…

  • Investing in reimagining museum experiences and services for a post-pandemic reality.
  • Continuing to engage their communities in innovative ways, such as:
    • Creating new virtual programming, such as story times, virtual camps, and more.
    • Bringing high-quality, hands-on learning opportunities to families via learning and activity kits.
  • Investigating new ways to leverage their buildings to be of service to the larger needs of the community, by acting as sites for testing and blood drives, satellite food distribution, and childcare services.
  • Strengthening existing and establishing new relationships with community partners to support children and families through the challenges of the pandemic.

Whether or not their doors are open, children’s museums are supporting their communities.

  • The wider education landscape is in crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Children’s museums generally operate outside of the strictures of formal education systems. Many children’s museums are leveraging this flexibility to support their local educational systems (e.g., schools, Head Start, afterschool, childcare) as the 2020-2021 academic year starts. They are:
    • Developing academic curricula and virtual content.
    • Offering safe learning spaces for families in hybrid schooling plans that combine in-person and online instruction.
    • Providing teacher training.
    • Bridging the digital divide by providing connectivity for those without adequate internet access at home.
  • Children’s museums are and can be central partners for child and family-centered public health outreach related to the pandemic and beyond. Some museums are:
    • Providing trusted information about COVID-19.
    • Connecting caregivers with mental health resources for children and families to cope with this stressful time, as well as offering programming around social and emotional learning.

As every children’s museum makes its own decision to work toward physical reopening, or commits to an extended physical closure, it faces unique challenges depending on its location, government mandates, and operational history. Even still, children’s museums around the world are united in their commitment to the safety of children, and our shared vision of a world that honors all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn and develop.

Help your local children’s museum continue to play its vital role in your community as an educational laboratory, community resource, and advocate by pledging your support today.

This document shares strategies that children’s museums are pursuing, not only to survive, but to continue to fulfill their missions in support of children and families. It provides field-wide messaging for children’s museums’ communications with the public and stakeholders. Questions? We’re here to help. Contact ACM@ChildrensMuseums.org

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

From Protests to Virus: Operational Changes with An Eye on Survival

This article is part of the June 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “Tightening Up: Streamlining Museum Operations.” Click here to read other articles in this issue.

By Serena Fan, Hong Kong Children’s Discovery Museum

After almost three years of planning, Hong Kong Children’s Discovery Museum (HKCDM) opened in September 2018 on the first floor of a commercial building in a family-friendly district on Hong Kong Island. The 6,600-square-foot space has more than forty exhibits for families with children ten years old and under to explore, create, and express themselves. During our first year of operation, 60,000 visitors came to the museum, including field trip visitors from 210 kindergartens, primary schools, and other community organizations. HKCDM opened with eighteen full time and twenty-three part time staff.

The ‘Best-Laid Plans’

Due to capacity issues, this city’s first children’s museum initially opened on a reservation-only basis. (By law, HKCDM has a maximum capacity of 200 people, including staff.) Three daily fixed-time sessions allowed visitors to explore the museum for up to two and a half hours. The timed reservation system helped ensure we would not have to turn visitors away, as our online ticketing platform could show when a session was full. Visitors could purchase tickets before coming or, take their chances: if the session was not full upon arrival, they could purchase tickets onsite.

In addition to legal capacity, the three fixed time slots were important because of the one-hour break in between them. This respite allowed us sufficient time to clean thoroughly, as Hong Kong parents are hyper-vigilant about cleanliness. More importantly, it provided time for staff to process what we just experienced and to quickly share how we could do things better in the next session. 

There were downsides to the ticketing platform. If a family pre-purchased tickets and a child became ill, we had to help them rebook their visit to another day. It was also challenging in the event of sudden inclement weather, like typhoons or heavy rain, during which we would have to rebook multiple sessions. We also learned that the fixed visiting times were restrictive for a primary demographic—families with toddlers—as each child’s eating and sleeping routines could vary from day to day.

Almost ten months after opening, as staff gained experience, the need for the hour-long cleaning and debrief intervals was reduced. So we started planning to move to a more traditional museum visitation model, where visitors could arrive at any time. Still bound by maximum capacity levels, we would keep visit durations at two and a half hours.

Protests Accelerate Operational Changes

Less than a year after HKCDM’s opening, Hong Kong experienced a major citywide disruption. In June 2019, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the Hong Kong government’s proposed extradition bill, which would allow criminal fugitives to be extradited to places with which Hong Kong currently does not have an extradition agreement. Notably, one of those countries is mainland China. When the government decided to proceed with the reading of the bill, a much larger demonstration was organized, which ended with the deployment of tear gas and rubber bullets. From there, weekly weekend demonstrations, often ending with tear gas, were common.

As time progressed, weekday boycotts called for citizens to stay home from work as a way to show support against the extradition bill. At the height of the anger against the government, demonstrators successfully shut down the city’s transportation system for a week. The Mass Transit Railway (subway) was so damaged at some major stations that it became unusable. In addition, roadblocks were set up at key areas around the city. Between the two, it was practically impossible to go anywhere. During that week, schools closed and more than half of our staff were unable to come to work.

Needless to say, these unprecedented events left us scrambling to put protocols into place. Furthermore, it pushed us to quickly change the way we operated, especially because it was predicted that protests could last for months and it was clear visitor attendance was already being affected. New and unforeseen variables added to the known limitations of the reservation system.

In July 2019, we piloted open sessions for two weeks. Visitors could come experience HKCDM for two and a half hours at any time during our regular hours. New visitors thanked us for the change, as some had always wanted to come, but could never find a session time that fit their schedule. Now they could come at a time that was most convenient for them. We learned some things about ideal visit start times as well. Our previous 12:30 p.m. fixed session start times were not as busy as our 4:00 p.m. sessions, because most families were still eating lunch midday. Once we moved to open sessions, we saw a rise in families coming at 1:30 p.m. On the weekend, this flexibility became important, because families would come in the early afternoon and leave in time to get home before the protests started again in the evening.

However, during the two-week pilot, we learned that the museum would need to implement major operational changes before this system became permanent. For example, we required a more sophisticated point-of-sale system. Open admissions required staff to handle all ticketing directly, instead of relying on the online ticketing platform formerly used to make reservations. We also needed a dedicated phone line and staff member to answer visitors’ inquiries about fluctuating daily capacity. We determined it would take us two months to adequately prepare for a permanent change to open sessions. So, we returned to our original fixed session system once the pilot was completed. This was painful, as the protests continued and families were limited to when they could come. The decrease in attendance was drastic, but we remained committed to a return to the fixed session system until staff was completely comfortable with a more sustainable plan.

In early November 2019, we switched permanently to open sessions. By then, protests were somewhat dying down, although families were still planning weekend activities around where ongoing protests were scheduled to take place. On weekends when rumors indicated that protests would occur near us, attendance would be low. Furthermore, the hot and humid summer had changed to cool and crisp fall weather, so fewer families were searching for engaging indoor activities. Thankfully, school field trips resumed so we were busy during the weekdays.

As Protests Wane, Coronavirus Hits

In mid-February 2020, Hong Kong experienced its second major citywide disruption within eight months. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, closed schools and government facilities, such as libraries and swimming pools, until further notice. As news of the virus began to emerge, our first response was to purchase an enormous supply of face masks and cleaning supplies. The day after this purchase was made, both masks and supplies were either completely sold out or twice the price all over the city. Thankfully we made a timely decision to purchase additional supplies, as the stress of not having enough masks or cleaning products would have been tremendous and extremely costly. It may also have hindered our decision as to whether to open and for how long we could operate.

The museum’s popular water play exhibit, shown pre-COVID-19.
The museum’s popular water play exhibit, shown pre-COVID-19.  Now, under new guidelines, all visitors and staff must wear surgical face masks throughout their time in the museum.  If they do not have them, the museum supplies them. The museum’s popular water play exhibit, shown pre-COVID-19.  Now, under new guidelines, all visitors and staff must wear surgical face masks throughout their time in the museum.  If they do not have them, the museum supplies them.

We also reverted back to fixed-time sessions. Once again, people need to make a reservation before coming to the museum. However, a new part of the reservation process requires potential visitors to answer a travel-related question: has anyone in the group wishing to visit been anywhere outside of Hong Kong in the past fourteen days (the virus’s supposed incubation period). In order to avoid discriminating against people traveling from different countries (mainland China, for example, as opposed to Canada, where the virus was exceedingly rare at the time), we made the difficult decision to impose a blanket ban on all destinations outside of Hong Kong. If anyone in the group answers yes, staff politely asked that the family book at a later date.

We also established new guidelines. All visitors and staff must wear a surgical facemask throughout their time at the museum (if they do not have them, the museum will supply them) and we lowered our maximum capacity number to fifty people. With fewer visitors, everyone can spread out and if a sick person, often yet to be diagnosed, is in the museum, the chances of infecting others are lower. Despite these precautionary measures, reservations are understandably still down. Although we were only able to open four days in February, some families were grateful that we were open at all so that their children could run around and to do something different from being cooped up at home.

A Present on Hold; A Future Unknown

After three years of conscientious planning, the museum opened with every expectation of success. However, these two unparalleled, back-to-back challenges have not only severely reduced admissions revenues, but have drained our three months of operating revenue cash reserves as well. Fortunately, museum donors are still supportive of HKCDM’s work, so the goal is to try to survive this period of unknowns.

In the meantime, we reduced expenses in order to sustain the museum through an indefinite period. For starters, beginning in February, temporary salary adjustments were put in place in accordance with Hong Kong employment regulations. All twenty of the museum’s full-time staff members received about 62 percent of their normal salaries. Fortunately, staff were in agreement with this arrangement. However, if the virus persists and the government continues to advocate that public places be closed, it is unclear whether this salary arrangement will continue to be acceptable to all. During this temporary reduced-salary period, the operations manager and myself are working full-time; remaining staff are working half-time, and sometimes from home.

Staff responsibilities have also been temporarily adjusted to make best possible use of available time and skills to meet the needs of the museum and our audience. For example, initially it was difficult to determine what additional tasks could be assigned to floor staff, working half their hours and with fewer visitors. Social media content, typically created and managed by the marketing team, was essential for keeping the public updated about health and safety measures as well as museum operating hours. We have now combined the skills of all teams to create social media content to keep our audience engaged. Floor staff and the education team are working together to create activities for children to do at home, which the marketing team then posts on the museum’s social media channels.

The above paragraphs were written in mid-February. Now, as we move into June, after a one-month mandatory closure by the government in April, we cautiously re-opened in May. People have gradually resumed going out to public places. Our reservation-only fixed-time sessions are often reaching our lowered maximum capacity. In the summer of 2019, many groups booked visits, but with the uncertainty of whether a second wave will occur in 2020, there have yet to be any similar bookings for the remainder of this year. We are planning to hold our own summer workshops to hopefully help generate additional revenue. While the past year has been difficult, we can confidently say we are a team of flexible, creative problem solvers, and that no problem is too big for us to tackle!

Serena Fan is the founder and executive director of the Hong Kong Children’s Discovery Museum.

Museums in a Pandemic: Snapshot of Impacts

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.1, the first report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology. Read other reports in this series: ACM Trends Report 4.2, “Financial Impacts by Mid-May 2020, ACM Trends Report 4.3, “Workforce Impacts,” and ACM Trends Report 4.4, “Impacts for Audiences and Partners.”

To understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the children’s museum field, we surveyed ACM member institutions from May 7 to 18, 2020 about their experiences. Overall, 109 US-based children’s museums and 6 non-US museums were represented in the responses. Here are several initial findings; future reports will provide more detail.

  • Federal Funding – The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was the  primary emergency funding source for US children’s museums. For financial support, 101 US-based museums applied for PPP funds. Of those, 95 museums received PPP funding and 6 museums did not. Children’s museums participating in the study cumulatively received $29.34 million in PPP funds.
  • Other Funding – Private funds were another source of financial support for some children’s museums. Of those surveyed, 36 US-based museums reported receiving a total of about $1.61 million in funds from this source. Several non- US institutions also received funds from private sources.
  • Reopening – In terms of plans for reopening, 43 US museums said they had identified their reopen dates. Of those, 39 planned to open before the end of 2020. Sixteen will reopen by June 15, 2020.
  • Memberships – For museums in the US, 9 out of 10 extended renewal dates for memberships.
  • Staffing – At the time of the survey, 75 US children’s museums reported staff reductions. Of those, 32% of full-time staff have been furloughed, laid-off, or had reduced working hours. For part-time staff, 64% have been furloughed, laid-off, or had reduced working hours. We will continue to track children’s museums experiences with staffing as the field navigates the pandemic.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. Knology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

Reopening with Equity in Mind: Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums

This post was produced in collaboration with the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, museums—like so many other institutions and sectors—are being asked to reimagine themselves: Will hands-on exhibits ever be the same? When and how can we reopen safely for our staff and our visitors? In the face of these existential questions, how can we keep equity front and center?

On May 19, the Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI) hosted a webinar about the opportunities for culturally relevant practice for museums during this time of crisis. During the webinar:

  • Cecilia Garibay, Principal, Garibay Group shared concrete areas of operations for rebuilding with an equity lens, drawing from CCLI’s Fall 2019 study on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) practices in the museum field (from 7:20 in the video below).
  • Museum leaders from CCLI alumni organizations offered reflections on how they are thinking about equity amidst this pandemic (from 19:58 in the video below).
  • Dana Whitelaw, Executive Director, High Desert Museum (Bend, Oregon) discussed her thinking around strategic planning, navigating staffing, and skilling up through an equity lens.
  • Jennifer Farrington, President & CEO, Chicago Children’s Museum (Chicago, Illinois) shared her experience with prioritizing authentic and effective community relationships and partnerships.
  • Elizabeth Pierce, President & CEO, Cincinnati Museum Center (Cincinnati, Ohio) offered how she is mobilizing her museum as a resource for equity in her community.
  • Laura Huerta Migus, Executive Director, Association of Children’s Museums moderated a Q&A covering creative ways to center equity in membership, partnership, revenue generation, and more in this challenging time (from 41:45 in the video below).


  • Slides from the webinar can be found here.
  • If you would like to assess where your institution is in its DEAI journey, check out this self-assessment tool to take stock of your institution’s cultural competence.
  • See more resources, case studies, and information about the CCLI program at the CCLI website.

Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI) is a partnership between the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group.

How Museums Are Helping Keep Essential Workers Safe

This post was produced in collaboration with the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

Children’s museums and science centers have overwhelmingly closed in response to COVID-19. While museums can no longer welcome visitors, they are leveraging their facilities, knowledge, and community connections to remain responsive to their communities.

Throughout this crisis, limited supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers has been an ongoing concern. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) members embark on projects to help bolster PPE and face mask supplies.

3D printers can be found in many museum makerspaces—or behind the scenes, where designers use them to fabricate exhibits. In recent weeks, many museums are using this technology to create PPE! Museums are working in collaboration with their local partners, ensuring that what they produce meets local needs and standards of use:

Arizona Science Center (Phoenix) is part of a local effort to use 3D printers to produce face shields for medical workers at Banner Health.

DISCOVERY Children’s Museum (Las Vegas, NV) is using their 3D printers to make medical-grade headpieces for local healthcare professionals. Using both of the museum’s devices, they’re creating 25 face shields each day!

The Field Museum (Chicago, IL) is using their three 3D printers to make National Institutes of Health-approved face shields for Meals on Wheels volunteers and Northwestern Hospital. The museum is also donating unopened lab supplies to health organizations in need.

The Idaho Museum of Natural History (Pocatello) is working with Idaho State University to 3D print three different medical products: the “Montana Mask,” face straps, and face shields.

LaunchPAD Children’s Museum (Sioux City, IA) is 3D printing ear savers and face shield frames for hospital personnel on the frontlines. To get started, they collaborated with a technology company along with other local organizations.

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (Santa Barbara, CA) is 3D printing PPE for local healthcare workers in their Innovation Workshop, in collaboration with Santa Barbara Foundation, University of California Santa Barbara, Cottage Health, and local makers. The museum uses the 3D modeling program TinkerCad to create simple designs, and encourages families to explore possibilities, shapes, and variables with this free tool.

The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) (Tampa, FL) responded to a call from the Moffitt Cancer Center seeking masks and has been using their 3D printers to make face shields for frontline staff.

Science North (Ontario, Canada) set up 3D printers in a staff member’s home, so they can work around the clock to make face masks for their local hospital.

The Science Spectrum and Omni Theater (Lubbock, TX) is 3D printing face shield headbands for West Texas hospitals and emergency units. The museum’s FabLab team got started after responding to a call from Texas Tech University and Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (IL) is using twenty of their 3D printers to make face shields and masks for local hospitals. As of April 15, they had created 250 frames and 40 masks!

Western Science Center (Hemet, CA) is 3D printing face mask clips for their local hospital. The museum’s four 3D printers can print thirteen clips at a time, with each set taking five hours to complete.

Museums are also leveraging their roles as knowledge-sharers and conveners to assist medical professionals and help the public maintain their personal safety:

Arizona Science Center (Phoenix) shared tips for how those at home can make face masks for personal use.

The Children’s Museum of the Arts (New York, NY) posted a blog sharing instructions on how to create personal fabric face masks using simple sewing skills.

KidZone Museum (Truckee, CA) launched That’s Sew Tahoe, a mask-making project for local hospitals. Under guidance from their community partners, the museum is coordinating with local sewers and makers to collect cloth masks. While not as effective as medical-grade masks, cloth masks allow hospitals to preserve essential PPE for high-risk situations.

Even with their doors closed, museums are working to serve their communities. For more information about what museums are doing in this time, check out ACM’s recent blog post Conversations with Children’s Museums Leaders around COVID-19, our list of Children’s Museum Virtual Activities, and ASTC’s blog and COVID-19 resource section

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) works toward its vision of increased understanding of—and engagement with—science and technology among all people. Follow ASTC on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Image by MOXI The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation.

Conversations with Children’s Museum Leaders around COVID-19

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) held a series of three hour-long CEO Calls, sponsored by Blackbaud, on March 24, 25, and 26, 2020. These calls provided a space for ACM to connect with children’s museum executive leadership—and for leaders to connect with each other—in the aftermath of mass closures in our field due to COVID-19.

ACM research shows that all U.S. children’s museums, and most around the world, are currently closed. We started each call with a short update from ACM on U.S. federal advocacy efforts to support museums and nonprofits. For up-to-date information about ACM’s advocacy work, and current relief opportunities available to children’s museums, see ACM’s website.

The majority of each call was spent around CEO discussion of two broad topics: museum staffing and operations decisions in the coming weeks, as well as efforts to virtually engage with audiences. A through line throughout these conversations was the challenges children’s museums will face—and what  our field may look like—when they are able to reopen. 

Operations and Staffing Decisions:

When making staffing decisions, CEOs took into account their museum’s reserves, insurance, relief opportunities, and unemployment options (which vary state by state). All children’s museums are nonprofits, and most are lean organizations with limited reserves that rely on admissions to cover operational costs. Based on an analysis of the 34 museums that shared information about their staffing decisions during these calls, 32 percent reported furloughing staff and 26 percent reported laying off staff.

Some CEOs were advised to lay off workers so they could collect unemployment, rather than slowly reduce their hours over time. Museums also considered staffing decisions with their museum’s business interruption insurance in mind. (See CEO discussion on business interruption insurance on Groupsite here).

CEOs shared their staffing plans over the next few months. These staffing plans fell into a few broad categories:

  • Continuing to pay all staff, with plans to reassess after a few weeks or months.
  • Continuing to pay all full-time staff, but laying off or furloughing part-time staff.
  • Laying off or furloughing the majority of both full- and part-time staff, but keeping a few key positions (often with reduced pay and/or hours).
  • Keeping on all staff, but reducing pay and hours across the board.
  • Laying off the majority of staff, but continuing to pay healthcare and benefits for the next few months.

CEOs suggested additional strategies to mitigate costs, such as letting full-time staff use all vacation and sick leave and freezing 403B contributions.

Furloughs and layoffs were the most common options for reducing payrolls. CEOs discussed the many considerations that went into their decisions to furlough or layoff staff.

  • Unemployment Options: Unemployment options in each state affected whether museums opted to furlough or lay off staff. Some states have softened unemployment criteria, such as search for work requirements, making layoffs a better choice for staff without work.
  • Furlough Categories: Some CEOs said they furloughed staff through “unemployment without job seeking” as the best option. Others furloughed staff under “standby” category, which allows staff to collect unemployment, without having to look for other jobs.
  • Legal implications: CEOs noted the need to consider the legal implications for laying off or keeping on staff, in consultation with an employment attorney.
  • Health Insurance: CEOs considered the issue of layoffs vs. furloughs through the lens of health insurance coverage. One CEO recommended touching base with your organization’s health insurance carrier, as some are delaying payments without penalty to help businesses preserve cash.  
  • Relief Funding: One museum had furloughed staff, but was deciding whether to terminate to meet the fifty employee threshold to qualify for SBA loans.

CEOs also discussed their communications with major funders over the past few weeks.

  • Several CEOs reported their funders had encouraged them to continue to pay all staff.
  • One CEO scheduled one-on-one discussions with all key funders. As a result, some funders come forward with operating support or released funding ahead of schedule.
  • Some funders were allowing museums flexibility within existing grants, as long as museums could report out on their work.
  • CEOs requested an example of letters museums are sending to donors and supporters. (See one example on Groupsite).

Virtual Activities

CEOs also discussed the work their museums are doing to bring the museum experience online, with virtual activities, often retaining staff to create this virtual programming. Content is often designed to keep the museum’s community engaged. It focuses on repurposed museum activities families can do at home, such as experiments, physical activities, storytimes, and more. (ACM is tracking these virtual activities—see our ongoing list here).

CEOs shared other virtual content ideas.

  • Some museums are sharing lesson plans for various grade levels, and developing lessons for caregivers to support children with different developmental needs.
  • Additional content models include live events, interactive parent sessions on Zoom, Facebook groups, and virtual field trips.
  • Several museums surveyed their members to get their input on their preferred content and distribution methods.
  • Many museums are sharing content from other museums, to supplement making their own.

CEOs shared positive results so far.

  • Some CEOs found that major donors as well as corporate partners appreciate their museum’s virtual activities, and share it with family members with young children.
  • Some museums had seen an increase in engagement on social media, resulting in fun stats to share with their board members and funders.
  • Activities are seen as a good way to connect with the museum’s community and members. CEOs cited seeing familiar faces from the museum during live events. They create “normalcy” by taking a museum’s already-existing programs online.
  • One CEO shared they’re thinking about the content they’re developing as a new toolset. They may put it behind a member’s-only site or use it in other ways when their museum reopens.

CEOs noted a need for support around a few areas related to virtual activities, as well as posed questions for consideration.

  • Because museums are getting requests to offer content for different ages and needs, how can museums collaborate to create content that’s segmented by audience? 
  • CEOs flagged the need for a standard hashtag for social media (ACM launched the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome).
  • CEOs asked, how do we not bombard our members, who are receiving a glut of information? Should museums resist creating too much content, and rather encourage parents and kids to take a break and play at home? How do museums ensure they don’t “get lost in the craziness”?
  • CEOs noted that the current virtual activities model may change, asking, how do we leverage this crisis to articulate the big message about children’s museums and our reach, impact, connectivity to family, and community?

As most virtual activities are offered free of charge, CEOs discussed different creative money-makers they can explore related to their current efforts.

  • Offering gift certificates to local business with membership push.
  • Creating pay-to-attend digital camps (i.e. one hour daily via Zoom) to expand on their free activities to keep some revenue coming in.
  • One CEO shared they had converted a state arts council grant to from a performance at the museum to a livestreaming event, allowing them to keep the funds while delivering on their grant project.
  • One CEO shared that a local restaurant franchise had reached out to sponsor their online resources.

CEOs also discussed some of their museum’s offline activities.  

  • One CEO is considering redeploying their staff to help run regional enrichment childcare centers for essential workers.
  • One CEO noted their museum may use Zoom to connect educators with childcare centers, such as local YMCAs, for program delivery.
  • One museum noted specific efforts to serve children with disabilities in this time.

ACM will draw from the conversations of the first CEO Calls as we continue to identify opportunities for museum leaders, and all children’s museum professionals, to convene and share knowledge. Stay tuned for more information!

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Are you a children’s museum with online programming? Contact Alison.Howard@ChildrensMuseums.org. Follow and share museums’ virtual activities with the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome.

Children’s Museum Virtual Activities

Update: ACM has launched Children’s Museums at Home, a searchable database sharing virtual programming from more than 240 children’s museums around the world! This post will no longer be updated—please see Children’s Museums at Home for an up-to-date listing of children’s museum virtual activities.

Last updated: April 21, 2020. Follow and share children’s museums’ virtual activities on social media with the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome.

As of March 19, 2020, ACM research shows that most children’s around the world, including every children’s museum in the U.S., has temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Throughout these incredibly challenging times, children’s museums around the world are continuing to fulfill their missions to promote playful learning—by supporting families at home. Museum staff are facilitating interactive activities via YouTube and Facebook Live. They’re sharing educational resources for caregivers suddenly teaching young kids at home while schools are closed. And they’re providing daily sources of joy and inspiration in this time of stress.

Check out this list of virtual activities offered by children’s museums, which we will continue to update regularly!

Above & Beyond Children’s Museum (Sheboygan, WI)
Posting daily videos of music programs and storytimes. Posting at-home activities, crafts, and project ideas using common household items on social media.
Check out “ABCM First Steps in Music for ages 0-2
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Twitter | #ABCMactivities

Adventure! Children’s Museum (Eugene, OR)
Sharing daily Adventure! Museum @ Home posts via Facebook and their email newsletter.
Check out “Museum @ Home – Issue 10
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Amazement Square (Lynchburg, VA)
Sharing daily videos through Amazement Square, Anywhere.
Check out “Try-It Tuesday with Officer Ramirez (Making Play-Dough)
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube 

Amelia Park Children’s Museum (Westfield, MA)
Launched their “Bridging the Gap” series, with new activities posted to their Facebook page and website daily.
Check out “A Cloud in a Jar
Website | Facebook

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Leslie Science & Nature Center (MI)
Kicked off their online programming with “Virtual Spring Break Camp,” with a series of STEM, environmental education, and camp-style activity videos, plus live workshops.
Check out “How to Practice Social Distancing
Website – AAHOM | Website – LSNC | Facebook – AAHOM | Facebook – LSNC

Bay Area Discovery Museum (San Francisco, CA)
Launched “Bringing BADM to You,” including a newsletter with research-backed activities and tips for parents and caregivers. Each week is organized around one of three themes: Math & Science, Body & Brain, and Talk & Play, including a weekly live event.
Check out “Raft Design
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum (Milwaukee, WI)
Offering “Play in the Cloud,” a collection of online resources, including daily tips for hands-on, educational activities. Facilitating weekly online meetups for caregivers of preschoolers via Zoom. Introducing an online version of its Tot Time program.
Check out “Inspire Daily: Paperclip Sculptures
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Boston Children’s Museum (MA)
Offering a wealth of free learning resources on their website. Sharing resources and activities on social media!
Check out “100 Ways to Play”  
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Bucks County Children’s Museum (New Hope, PA)
Sharing activities and online educational resources on their website.
Check out the “Think Spring at Home Mural” coloring page
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Building for Kids Children’s Museum (Appleton, WI)
Posting daily activities every weekday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. CST, including movement exercises and musical performances.
Check out “Afternoon Activity: Baby Bath Time
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Creativity Museum (San Francisco, CA)
Updating their blog and social media with resources and safety tips for families at home
Check out “Mystery Box Challenge: Create A Zoo Animal
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #CreativityEveryday #CreativityKids

Children’s Discovery Museum (Normal, IL)
Posting a “Daily Dose of Play,” with playful activities for families for e-learning days.  
Check out “Spaghetti Kitchen Sensory Bin
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #DailyDoseofPlay

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CA)
Launched Virtual Purple Museum, sharing live and recorded broadcasts around science, math, the arts, storytime, and baby rhyme time, as well as activity sheets.
Check out “Treasure Maps
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Hands-On Museum of Tuscaloosa (AL)
Launched CHOM at Home, with themed daily programming: Movement Mondays, Time Travel Tuesdays, Wacky Science Wednesday, Theatric Thursday, Friday Fun, and Weekend Challenge.
Check out “Theatric Thursday – Hand Masks!
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine (Portland)
Offering daily online “At Home Together: Wild Life and Makerspace Series,” “Maine Youth Playwriting Challenge,” and “Onstage and Off: Theatre Together (Online) Series.”
Check out “Beachwalk Scavenger
Website | Facebook | Instagram

The Children’s Museum in Easton (MA)
Posting a daily #socialdistancelearning challenge on Facebook, with a video of a staff member demonstrating the activity.
Check out “Hands, Feet, Oh My! (Introduction to Measuring)
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #socialdistancelearning

Children’s Museum of Atlanta (GA)
Posting an activity, vocab list, and music playlist or book recommendation each weekday at 11 a.m. EDT on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Check out “Music Monday: Bean Tambourine
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #CMAatHome

The Children’s Museum of Cleveland (OH)
Posting daily online programming on social media, with movement exercises, storytimes, music and STEM lessons, and more. Sharing additional activities and video archives on their website.
Check out “Movement – DIY Laser Maze
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus (CO)
Launched the “Museum Fun 101” Facebook group for sharing at-home activities from the museum. Also offering resources on their website.  
Check out “Teaching Kitchen Recipes
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

The Children’s Museum of Evansville (IN)
Delivering dynamic programming to children and their families, with educational content, playful Quack Pack tutorials, and more!
Check out “Build a Blanket Fort
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac (WI)
Sharing educational and supporting videos for both children and their grownups.  
Check out “Maker Lab – Corner Bookmarks
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

The Children’s Museum of Green Bay (WI)
Offering daily videos every morning at 10:15 a.m. CDT with live and pre-recorded programming.
Check out “Getting Messy with Salt Dough
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Houston (TX)
Producing a series of videos related to COVID-19 featuring “Mr. O,” in partnership with ACM. Providing resources on their website and social media channels.
Check out “It’s Snot Funny
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of La Crosse (WI)
Sharing suggestions for at-home activities, adapting museum programming for kids at home.    
Check out “Wee Move – Wiggle & Giggle
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #SillySmart

Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (Charleston, SC)
Sharing videos with instructional, at-home activities for young children and families. Sharing mindfulness resources. Letting their mascot, DooDash the Dragon, take over Twitter and Instagram!   
Check out “Brown Bag STEM Challenge with Mr. Kevin
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Manhattan (NY)
Launched CMOM at Home, with daily videos, sing-a-longs, games, and more. Also sharing educational resources for families.
Check out “Magic Monday: Fizzy Hidden Surprise
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (Dover)
Bringing families and educators resources, with STEAM, storytime, and other activity videos, community connections, and activity boxes.
Check out “First Friends Rhymes & Songs
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #PlayTogether

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (PA)
Launched Museum at Home to bring maker activities from the museum and MuseumLab home. Posting creative do-it-yourself projects every day!
Check out “Let’s Try Making Our Own Watercolor Paints
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Phoenix (AZ)
Sharing daily virtual activity videos on social media, with themes from Movement Monday to Arty Party Friday to Storybook Sunday!
Check out “Water Bottle Bowling
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Children’s Museum of Richmond (VA)
Launched a blog to share videos, activities (including art projects and storytimes), and caregiver resources.
Check out “Ten Tips for Helping Kids Play Ahead
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (CA)
Sharing resources and at-home activity ideas. Creating how-to videos on YouTube and live programming videos on Facebook Live. Sharing content in their blog and newsletter.
Check out “Balloon Blow-Up Science Experiment
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of South Dakota (Brookings)
Posting “Recipes for Play” on their Seize the Play blog, sharing how to make family trees, puffy paint, prairie beads, and more.
Check out “Process Art with Lauren and Charles
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #PlayAlongSD

Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (Mankato)
Launched #CMSMatHome, with daily activities for families and children to complete at home.
Check out “Be a City Planner
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #CMSMatHome

The Children’s Museum of Wilmington (NC)
Designing creative activities for families to do at home, with brain games, exercises, and more.
Check out “ABC Exercise Cards
Website | Facebook | Instagram | #atCMOW

The Children’s Playhouse (Boone, NC)
Sharing short versions of their popular music classes, “Musical Adventures with Miss Laura,” on their website and social media.
Check out “Weather Songs
Website | Facebook | YouTube

Children’s Science Center (Fairfax, VA)
Creating experiential videos including demonstrations, DIY experiments, keeper talks, and their Budding Bookworm program. Also continuing to care for the 100 animals that live at the Children’s Science Center Lab!
Check out “Baby Elephant Toothpaste
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

C’mon (Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples) (FL)
Offering Play & Learn online programs, such as Little Learners Storytime, STEAM, and C’mon at Home, on social media and Facebook live.
Check out “Little Learners Storytime – La Oruga Muy Hambrienta (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | #cmoncares

Creative Discovery Museum (Chattanooga, TN)
Launched Creativity TV, sharing lessons from the museum, including critter encounters and science shows, as well as activities that can be done with materials found in the home.
Check out “Great Balls of Fire – Fiery Lycopodium Powder Experiment!
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Delaware Children’s Museum
Sharing fun activities and recipes that adults and kids can safely and easily do at home to continue to learn and play together.  
Check out “DIY Ping Pong Mazes
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Discovery Center Museum (Rockford, IL)
Launched #PlayfulLearningatHome, sharing daily videos with instructional, at-home science activities and demonstrations, art projects, storytimes and sing-alongs, weekly “Ask a Scientist” Facebook Live Streams, and the humorous misadventures of Captain Discovery Center.
Check out “Make Your Own Fizzy Colors
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | #PlayfulLearningatHome

Discovery Children’s Museum (Las Vegas, NV)
Sharing resources and educational links for families figuring out how to entertain and educate kids at home.
Check out “How Does Static Electricity Work?
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #AtHomeDiscoveries

Discovery Museum (Acton, MA)
Launched Discovery at Home, an online resource guide with hands-on learning activities and curated resources.
Check out “Tracing Shadows
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Discovery Place Kids (Huntersville and Rockingham, NC)
Created Stay-at-Home Science, a digital learning center with experiments, projects, activities, and more resources to keep learners of all ages engaged.
Check out “A Livestream from our Rainforest
Website | Facebook – Discovery Place Kids-Huntersville | Facebook – Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham | Twitter – Discovery Place Kids-Huntersville | Twitter – Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham | Instagram

The DoSeum (San Antonio, TX)
Created “Do It At Home,” an online hub with educational resources for families at home, including DIY Activities, Storytimes, and Questions from Kids.
Check out “Ask a DOer: Meet Dr. Richard
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Duluth Children’s Museum (MN)
Launched “Stay@Home, Play@Home,” with new videos every day!
Check out “Learning to Juggle
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Dupage Children’s Museum (Naperville, IL)
Build a robust online community to support families, with new programming and experiences to keep the learning growing at home.
Check out “Sensory Snow
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Explore More Discovery Museum (Harrison, VA)
Offering “Explore More at Home” activities five days a week. Each day explores a different theme through play-based, interactive experiences that families can easily do at home.
Check out “Explore More at Home: Pet Party
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum (Buffalo, NY)
Launched their “Sanity Savers” blog—an at-home guide for bringing play-based education into the home.
Check out “Sanity Savers: Nursing Home Mail
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram  

Flint Children’s Museum (MI)
Taking the museum’s program to a virtual setting, with a focus on projects families can do together with things found around the house.
Check out “Rainbow Kaleidoscope
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Glazer Children’s Museum (Tampa, FL)
Launched “GCM at Home” to share virtual content with families.
Check out “Wiggle a Little, a playlist
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #GCMatHome

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (MI)
Creating Play@Home content to help families engage in open-ended play at home—“so they can transform their living room, backyard, or bedroom into their very own mini-GRCM.”
Check out “Try-It Tuesday: Upcycled Crayons
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Great Explorations Children’s Museum (St. Petersburg, FL)
Posting a weekly challenge each Monday, sharing community resources, creating videos, and offering “Blow Off Some S.T.E.A.M.” kits by mail.   
Check out “Morris Scavenger Hunt
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Greensboro Children’s Museum (NC)
Launched “explore (at home),” with educational resources and activities to bring the joy of meaningful play into families’ homes.
Check out “Violet Jelly Recipe
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center (Honolulu)
Launched an At Home Learning video series, with storytimes, STEAM activities, and yoga.
Check out “Yoga for Kids
Website | Facebook | YouTube

HealthWorks! North Mississippi (Tupelo)
Sharing virtual lessons and at-home resources such as family-friendly healthy activities, exercises, and assignments. 
Check out “Health Works! At Home – Healthy Mindset
Website | Facebook

Imagine Children’s Museum (Everett, WA)
Conducting video programming, as well as facilitating virtual activities like a drawing contest and pen pal exchange with the museum.
Check out “How to Build a Hoop Glider
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | #AtHomeDiscoveries

Imagine Nation, A Museum Early Learning Center (Bristol, CT)
Launched Imagine Nation At Home, a new online community, sharing links, activities, and messages that promote positivity, fun, and learning through play.
Check out “Recycled Material Fun #1: Simple Bird Feeder
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #ImagineNationAtHome

Imaginosity – Dublin Children’s Museum (Ireland)
Sharing daily activities on social media, with full instructions on Instagram Stories.
Check out “DIY Fossil Excavation
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, Inc. (INK) (Gainesville, GA)
Offering daily play prompts and craft ideas.
Check out “At-Home Play Challenge – Young Chef
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube  

The Iowa Children’s Museum (Coralville)
Posting a variety of at-home activities, creative prompts, and interactive livestream events (like sing-alongs on Instagram).  
Check out “Games from around the World
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Jackson Hole Children’s Museum (Jackson, WY)
Offering a Jackson Hole ONLINE Play Museum, with virtual programming including science and art activities, sensory and song-filled Toddler Time activities, and weekly events like family yoga and virtual Touch-A-Truck tours!
Check out “Rain Cloud in a Jar! Wacky Wednesday Science with Anna
Website | Facebook | YouTube

Kaleideum (Winston-Salem, NC)
Posting daily videos of content around parenting, arts & crafts, and science learning families can do at home on their social media, blog, and website.  
Check out “Meet Huey, Our Blue and Gold Macaw
Website | Facebook – Kaleideum Downtown | Facebook – Kaleideum North | Twitter – Kaleideum Downtown | Twitter – Kaleideum North | Instagram | YouTube | #kaleideumathome

Kansas Children’s Discovery Center (Topeka)
Producing a series of educational content pieces designed to get families playing and learning at home.
Check out “Pretend Vet Clinic
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube | #DiscoveryatHome

Kentucky Science Center (Louisville, KY)
Collaborates with other organizations in Kentucky on My Big Little Adventure, an early childhood-focused home resource funded by PNC Grow Up Great. Also posting science experiments on social media! 
Check out “Paper Helicopter Plans
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | #DoScience

Kidspace Children’s Museum (Pasadena, CA)
Launched Kidspace-At-Home: Virtual Learning and Play Resources, developed to spark connection, creativity, laughter, and inspiration.
Check out “Birthdays During Social Distancing
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, WA)
Sharing ways to play and learn at home on their website and social media.
Check out “Early Math Skills: Sorting and Classifying
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Kidzu Children’s Museum (Chapel Hill, NC)
Regularly posting new activities for families on their website and Facebook along with sharing links to additional resources for playful learning at home.
Check out “Messy Morning: Fun with Baking Soda and Vinegar
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago (Glenview, IL)
Adding videos to their Home Zone series, with activities to help families take the museum experience home, plus their Story Time series!
Check out “Mathematizing Weather
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Lincoln Children’s Museum (NE)
Providing meaningful fun through both online and in-home activities, like a daily Boredom Busters Facebook Live event at 10:30 a.m. CDT (with accompanying resources) and curbside pickup activities.
Check out “Boredom Buster: Earth, Paint, and Rocks
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Long Island Children’s Museum (Garden City, NY)
Has online resource guides for playing outside safely and talking about art. They’re also sharing resources on Facebook, and hosting a “Visit LICM at Home” event on March 28, 2020.
Check out “Bookface Friday
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Louisiana Children’s Museum (New Orleans)
Launched “In Dialogue,” a weekly series on Zoom and YouTube featuring experts from the Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.
Check out “In Dialogue: Positive Parenting
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Madison Children’s Museum (WI)
Sharing educational programming for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, along with quick activity ideas, tips, news from the museum, and partner resources. Also launched a Facebook group for museum members and friends.
Check out “Brain Builders with Heather: Indoor Obstacle Course
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Marbles Kids Museum (Raleigh, NC)
Providing a daily dose of play on YouTube and social media, as well as posting Play Tools and resources on their website.
Check out “Kitchen Percussion
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #dailydoseofplay

Minnesota Children’s Museum (St. Paul)
Sharing super ways to play at home, with open-ended play activities, play tips, videos, plus blog posts and other resources.  
Check out “Coloring Pages from a Local Artist
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Mississippi Children’s Museum (Jackson)
Launched MCM at Home on all digital platforms, with hands-on educational videos, book readings, individual activities, and activity kits.
Check out “Farm Bureau Spotlight: Honey Bees
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #MCMatHome

Museo Tin Marín (San Salvador, El Salvador)
Posting videos, activities, and custom graphics sharing educational resources and activities.
Check out the correct way to wash your hands
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Museum of Discovery and Science (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Launched MODS Virtual Camp Discovery across all digital platforms, with a new science-focused demo or activity posted each weekday.
Check out “Ooey Gooey Chocolate Slime
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (Santa Barbara, CA)
Launched Moxi at Home to share daily activities for families at home, drawing from the museum’s popular programming and exhibits.  
Check out “Toddler Tuesday: Mystery Shakers
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #moxiathome

MUZEIKO – America for Bulgaria Children’s Museum (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Sharing online resources and livestreams to stay in touch with visitors and friends, including activities and storytimes.  
Check out “Crawling Exhibits at Muzeiko
Website | Facebook | YouTube

National Children’s Museum (Washington, DC)
Going live on Facebook each day at 2:30 p.m. EDT to share activities, including science experiments, storytimes, and Design Build Challenges.
Check out “#STEAMwork Climate Action Challenge
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #STEAMwork

The New Children’s Museum (San Diego, CA)
Launched #thinkplaycreateathome, encouraging visitors, members, and staff to send short videos or photos of how they are being creative at home!
Check out “DIY Scramble Screens
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #thinkplaycreateathome

North Country Children’s Museum (Potsdam, NY)
Created a YouTube channel to post STEAM project videos!
Check out “DIY Balloon
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Omaha Children’s Museum (NE)
Sharing daily “Museum Minutes” and “Playful Projects” videos, including storytimes, at-home science experiments, and Tinker Challenges. Also offering free printables on their website.
Check out “Ben’s Tinker Challenge: Will It Float?
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum (IL)
Offering video-based StoryTime and Career Days, inviting children from around the world to contribute to the PlayHouse Times, and a Summer Maker Challenge supported by other ideas for art and making projects around the home. Also offering resources related to parenting through this difficult moment.
Check out “Summer Maker Program Bingo Card” 
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Port Discovery Children’s Museum (Baltimore, MD)
Sharing At Home Play Tips, with activity ideas, resources, and updates from the museum.
Check out “Kinetic Sand Play Bin.” 
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Pretend City Children’s Museum (Irvine, CA)
Offering daily story times as well as real-time programming through Zoom and Facebook Live.  
Check out “Brown Bear Activity
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Providence Children’s Museum (RI)
Moved all museum programming online, posting daily videos on Facebook as well as at-home activities.
Check out “Make It Rain with DIY Rainsticks
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube | #PCMCreates

Sciencenter (Ithaca, NY)
Hosting daily live activities at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Zoom, which are also shared on Facebook. Also sharing a live YouTube feed of their Animal Room!
Check out “Paper Mountains
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Scott Family Amazeum (Bentonville, AK)
Launched Amazeum YOU to share activities and stay in touch with families at home, including twice-daily check-ins via Facebook Live.
Check out “Plushie Pillow
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #AmazeumYOU

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum (Winchester, VA)
Sharing themed activities six days a week, around subjects like chain reactions and the five senses.
Check out “Five Senses Detective
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Stepping Stones Museum for Children (Norwalk, CT)
Encouraging playful learning at home with their “Every Day Fun! DIY Home Extension” video series, featuring Fitness Fun, Music Makers, Science Central, and more!
Check out “Music Makers | Wash Your Hands!
Website | FacebookInstagram | Twitter | #SteppingStonesAtHome #BooZoosBookBuddies

Staten Island Children’s Museum (NY)
Created “At Home with SICM” a constantly updated collection educational and inspiring videos, print-at-home activity sheets, and live-stream sessions. Topics include arts and crafts, the museum’s exhibits and animal collection, dance and play circles, and storytime.
Check out “Morse Code Explained
Website | FacebookInstagram | Twitter | YouTube

The Strong (Rochester, NY)
Sharing DIY activities, imaginative play ideas, and videos that include storytimes, animal showings, and fun facts about toys.
Check out “Stories About the Stuff—Mr. Potato Head
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Thinkery (Austin, TX)
Producing a “Thinkery At Home” video series, featuring smart, fun things to do with kids at home.
Check out “10 Great Hands-On Activities To Do At Home
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #ThinkeryAtHome

Treehouse Children’s Museum (Ogden, UT)
Sharing online activities in partnership with authors, illustrators, puppeteers, storytellers, and filmmakers who have previously served residencies at the museum. Running “Children’s Challenges” competitions, with submissions reviewed by weekly guest artists. Also creating music videos with staff.
Check out “Treehouse Tales 1: Storyteller Randel McGee
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City (Shawnee, KS)
Providing virtual programming twice a day, Tuesday to Friday, as well as sharing “pop-up” activities on YouTube.
Check out “The Three Little Pigs – Puppet Show
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

The Woodlands Children’s Museum (TX)
Sharing Storybook Theatre and Puppet Theatre videos with their Literacy Specialist, Miss Jan, on Thursdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. CST.
Check out “Shadow Puppet Theatre-When Spring Comes
Website | Facebook | Twitter

WOW! Children’s Museum (Lafayette, CO)
Offering “WOW! @ Home” activity guides and recipes on their website! Posting activities and storytimes on Facebook.
Check out “Forest of Light at Home
Website | Facebook | Instagram

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Follow and share museums’ virtual activities with the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome.

Museum Strategies for Event Cancellation, Rescheduling, and Refunds

By Elissa K. Miller

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, children’s museums, science-technology centers, and other cultural and educational attractions are facing unprecedented challenges in every aspect of operations. After your team meets the most urgent physical safety requirements and addresses other urgent matters, you’ll need to determine how to move forward during a period of extremely limited or altogether ceased operations.

One of the many challenges facing museums is how to handle cancellations of scheduled events, birthday parties, and group visits. In this post, we’ll look at some different options for handling large numbers of cancellations.

IMPORTANT: Check Your Payment Processor’s Daily Refund Limit

Your payment processor is the company that handles credit card, debit card, gift card and e-check transactions. Some registration systems require to you use their payment processor while others allow you to choose the organization you want to work with.

As part of fraud prevention, most payment processors place a limit on the dollar amount of refunds that can be issued in a day. While this limit is usually more than reasonable in normal circumstances, you might reach the limit quickly if you plan to refund a significant number of registrations.

When you know the daily refund limit, you can plan the number of refunds accordingly. So, be sure to check with your payment processor before you start issuing refunds; depending on the answer, you may want to ask them to temporarily raise the daily limit so you can process refunds more quickly.

Customer-Friendly Cancellation Alternatives

Your visitors and members appreciate your programs and understand your value to the community, and chances are good that many of them want to support your mission, especially during COVID-19. Instead of automatically issuing refunds for canceled events, ask your customers to consider the following options.

Offer Gift Cards Instead of Refunds

By converting registration and reservation fees to gift cards delivers the best of both worlds to your customers and your museum. Gift cards will bring families back to your doors as soon as it’s safe, and can be spent on admission, memberships, another camp or program, another birthday party and even merchandise (depending on how your museum store operates).

Your customers don’t lose any money because the gift card covers the value of their payments, and your museum can keep the money on your books to support your operations during this uncertain time.

As an added incentive and thank you, consider rounding up the value of the gift cards or adding an additional flat dollar amount to make customers even more positive toward your organization. 

Offer Memberships Instead of Refunds

If your museum doesn’t offer gift cards or you don’t have a practical way to offer them, or if you simply want to boost memberships, you can offer to apply registration fees to one or more kinds of memberships. As with gift cards, consider rounding up the value as a thank you to your new members.

For customers who paid more than the cost of a membership, you’ll still need to consider issuing a refund or gift card, or asking if they’d like to convert the balance to a donation, discussed in the next section.

Speaking of memberships, you may want to consider extending the expiration dates of all memberships to account for the time that your museum is closed.

Offer to Convert Fees to Donations

Many organizations are asking registration owners if they’d like to convert all or part of their registration fees for canceled events to a donation instead. Depending on your museum, donations may be used as unrestricted funds to support your continued operations without the quid pro quo of a membership or gift card.

Event Cancellation and Rescheduling Tips

The procedure for cancelling events depends entirely on your event management provider, so some of these suggestions may not be available to you.

  • Keep the event on your public calendar, with CANCELLED or RESCHEDULED before the event name. Be sure to close registration first!
  • Update the event’s information page for the event (usually the first page in the registration process) with details on the cancellation or the newly scheduled date.
  • If the event is rescheduled and your event management solution allows you to transfer registrations directly, offer to transfer the registration to the new event. All registrant information and payments should be applied to the new event, and new tickets, confirmations, and receipts should be issued automatically. 

Elissa K. Miller, M.Ed., is communications director at Doubleknot, an integrated online, on-site, and mobile solutions provider for nonprofits and cultural organizations. As the former development director for a regional nonprofit, she’s passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations harness new technologies to streamline operations and support their missions.

ACM Resources to Help Guide Your Museum’s Response to Coronavirus

Check out our updated COVID-19 Resources on the ACM website (Updated March 26, 2020) .

In recognition of the global response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) recommends the following actions to children’s museums to guide their rapid response to this developing situation.

Your museum has strong existing practices around cleaning and safety protocols, as well as other procedures that keep your museum in top shape during cold and flu season. Given the public response and concern around COVID-19, we encourage our members to review their existing practices, as well as consider potential new processes to help your institution remain responsive as public spaces—and public resources.

These recommendations are not intended to provide a definitive answer for your museum, but can be used as a starting point for discussion at your museum’s leadership or board level.

Internal Protocols:

Cleaning and Safety Protocols:

  • We recommend that all children’s museums review their cleaning and safety protocols in light of the current risks. If changes are needed, museums should inform all staff of the changes made, especially frontline staff who directly engage with visitors.
  • We recommend that your museum review its sick child policy, and update your museum’s front desk signage to reflect this policy.
  • The situation is rapidly changing. To stay up-to-date on latest developments, museums may consider designating a staff member to conduct a daily review of news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) and sharing this information with museum leadership.

See the Safety & Risk Management section of ACM’s Online Member Resource Library for examples of cleaning and safety protocols.

Administrative Considerations:

  • We recommend that executive leadership at all children’s museums review their emergency disaster and succession plans, making changes as needed. For example, how does your museum’s phone tree work to inform staff if the museum is unexpectedly closed?  
  • We recommend museums review their insurance policy, such as how an outbreak in your museum’s community may affect your business interruption insurance or general liability policy. Under your policy, is it possible to obtain a COVID-19 endorsement or rider on your institution’s general liability policy? The National Underwriter Resource Center (NURC) may be a resource for exploring this option for U.S.-based museums.
  • We recommend that executive leadership at all children’s museums engage in scenario planning. In the event of an outbreak in your community, schools may close, or local government may even choose to temporarily close cultural institutions. While we cannot predict what will happen, putting plans in place for different scenarios will help facilitate your museum’s responses no matter the situation.
    • What is your museum’s plan if other systems—such as schools—are closed, but the museum is able to stay open?
    • How will your museum prepare for a mandatory shutdown, especially in terms of staff compensation?
    • Are there creative ways for your museum to continue operations in case of a shutdown?

Potential Sourcing Issues:

  • Because of the global nature of COVID-19, there is a possibility supply chains may be affected by the outbreak. We recommend that children’s museums take into account lines of supply that may be disrupted in terms of consumables, office supplies, and cleaning supplies. It may be prudent to stock up—for example, expanding your museum’s typical one-month supply of toilet paper to a three-month supply.

External Actions:

Hosting Gatherings:

  • Not only do children’s museums host events, but they are gathering spaces for visitors of all ages. We recommend that children’s museums review WHO guidelines for organizing mass gatherings in the context of COVID-19, with recommendations for planning, risk assessment, and other considerations.

Serving as a Resource:

  • We recommend that museums consider their external messaging about health and safety practices. Is there an opportunity for your museum to serve as a trusted resource to your community, such as sharing information in your newsletter or on social media?
    • Your museum may consider sharing resources from the CDC or your local health and human services department.
    • You may also consider sharing resources about handwashing and update your bathroom signage to encourage best handwashing practices.
  • We recommend that museums consider their external media plan. For example, local media may contact your museum about your cleaning plan. Identifying your museum’s spokespeople and messaging plan will help position your museum as a trusted local resource. 

These recommendations draw from best practices for all communicable diseases. As local destinations, children’s museums are well versed in many of these practices and protocols. Part of what makes COVID-19 scary is that it’s new—but our field has tested practices that work to keep kids safe while playfully learning. By reviewing and updating our existing practices, and leveraging our roles as trusted resources, children’s museums can remain responsive in service to our communities.

Resource List:

These resources will be updated as new information becomes available.

ACM Groupsite:

ACM Groupsite is the Association of Children’s Museums’ central hub online. It’s a space where children’s museums professionals can ask for advice, share ideas, and access resources on our discussion boards. Log in or create an account.

Discussion Posts on ACM Groupsite

Resources in the Online Member Resource Library

Messaging from Children’s Museums

More Museum Resources

Health Organizations

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/

Environmental Protection Agency:

Directory of Local Health Departments (U.S.): https://www.naccho.org/membership/lhd-directory

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.