Children's Museum needs help to continue

The community is invited to attend a public meeting Feb. 18

Tiffany TuellJanuary 17, 2013 

It's already been a year since community members joined together to discuss the fate, and possible solutions, of the Children's Museum of the Sierra that was facing serious financial struggles. Many ideas were offered and many jumped on the bandwagon to help save the museum. Today, the museum is doing better than it was a year ago but is still struggling financially and looking for renewed interest from the community.

A meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 18 at the Oakhurst Community Center, 39800 Road 425B, and anyone interested in becoming involved with the museum is invited. Museum director Steve Montalto said they're looking for museum volunteers and/or people interested in teaching classes at the museum such as art or photography. They are also looking for people interested in being board members and committee chairs.

Jarrod Lyman, who is committee chair of marketing for the museum, said it's important that people get involved in an area that fits their passion and specialty.

"When people have a passion for what they're doing it will show through and we need people that have a passion for the community, the children in it and the museum."

Montalto says they want to hit the ground running even though he says the amount of things they did at the museum last year was "amazing." They offered a variety of classes, programs, special events, and held fundraisers. Some of the classes offered were art programs, home school meet-ups, natural science and events such as a magic show and sing-alongs. They also had Spanish and movement and music classes and even held a carnival.

"You get people there with something fun and they rediscover the museum with those sorts of events," Lyman said.

Montalto says all their efforts resulted in much higher levels of membership and admission and they were able to stop the three year downward trend the museum had been experiencing.

However Lyman and Montalto said they're still trying to work on their financial issues. To help alleviate that, they raised memberships fees the beginning of last October.

Family memberships went from $55 a year to $75. General admission went from $4 to 6 (ages 2-55) and $3 to $4 for seniors. Entrance for children under two years old remains free.

"One of the fundamental challenges is our constituency is people that can sometimes barely afford entry fees," Montalto said. "Even though it's only $75 for a family, it's still a big nut for some people to afford -- that's the majority of people we serve -- and we can't put an equitable price tag on the people we serve."

Montalto said the museum needs to raise a large amount of operating capital in order to run the museum. However, with so many organizations in need in the Mountain Area, Montalto says fundraising is a challenge. He said the museum can't rely on membership and admission alone, it also needs sponsorships and financial stakeholders. Montalto wants to raise awareness and inform people about what they're doing at the museum, the philosophy behind it and goals.

Montalto says he wants people to know it's not just a place for children to play, it's a family place for families and for children to have interactive learning experiences -- it's about making things and learning skills that allow creative and problem solving skills to flourish.

"It's about getting them away from the the television and doing something," Lyman said. "Children learn by doing and that's what the children's museum is about. It's about teaching for life and creativity and helping ignite a passion that might lead to a career for someone someday."

Montalto said that someday, hopefully sooner than later, he'd like to see the museum's current exhibits become digitally interactive in order to stay relevant.

"If we could augment that stuff with digital experiences, we've made that so much more enriching for kids and parents and the older kids that we aren't capturing and engaging because we're not relevant to them," Montalto said. "We need to start exploring that to provide enriching experiences while strongly maintaining the very hands-on, active environment we've got."

Last summer the museum held a summer enrichment program for the first time and Montalto said they're hoping to do that again but are looking for ideas to go beyond what they've done before. Last year they also did a photography class with the Madera County Arts Council and would like to that again, too.

However even with all the museum's media outlets, Montalto and Lyman said awareness is low, especially if people don't have children or grandchildren that attend the museum.

Montalto says he really wants to capitalize on the people that have been active with the museum at the Feb. 18 meeting and invite everyone to help bring the museum's vision to a sustainable model/reality.

"We have a really clear picture in our minds of what we're trying to do and our key challenges and we really want to just lay that out and show the broader group of folks the activities that we've done," Montalto said.

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