Rhode Island museums are still struggling to recover from the pandemic

Many Rhode Island museums are still struggling to recover from the pandemic, but while art galleries and adult exhibit spaces are beginning to recover, museums and children’s educational centers still have a long way to go. The Providence Children’s Museum finally reopened on July 8, but it still faces a big hurdle: Almost all of its target audience – children under 12 – are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

And we don’t know when they will be.

Brady Hidalgo, 2, of Providence playing with a cart at the COME TO RHODE ISLAND exhibit at the Providence Children’s Museum. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

For the Providence Children’s Museum, this means a loss of tens of thousands of dollars every month. The highly interactive museum, where children are encouraged to explore, touch and create, welcomed 5,100 visitors in July, a significant drop from their more than 16,000 visitors in July 2019 – a drop of $65,000 at the door for the month of July alone. It lost around $1.2 million in revenue in 2020 and is on course to lose another $1 million this year as they had to remain closed from January to June.

Overall losses would be higher, said Annelise Conway, the museum’s director of development, but the museum has its own building in the Jewelry District, which means it doesn’t have to worry about rent or mortgage payments. students.

“It’s our saving grace,” she said.

Lost sales come on top of increased spending to keep families feeling safe during the pandemic, according to Caroline Payson, the museum’s chief executive. The museum has installed a hospital-grade ventilation system and filters, touchless hand sanitizer dispensers, and purchased additional toys so those in use can be replaced throughout the day. Strict capacity limits mean the museum is only open for two sessions a day – one in the morning and another in the afternoon – and closed for cleaning for an hour in between. Everyone is required to wear a mask.

“There is literally someone following the kids, cleaning up absolutely everything. And then we close to do a deep clean mid-day,” she said.

Children enjoy the AIR PLAY exhibit at the Providence Children’s Museum. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

And while more than half of their visitors pay full price, about 40% receive discounted or free admission — including EBT cardholders, members of the Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, families Blue Star and Feinstein Foundation cardholders.

For the museum, it could take years to recover.

“The pandemic is definitely not over for us,” Conway said. “And we know that will continue until the younger children are vaccinated.”

As a non-profit organization, attracting new donors has not been easy. The museum’s main fundraising event, which normally raises around $250,000, was canceled due to COVID-19, and individual donors struggled to meet their challenges, including layoffs and furloughs.

Hands in swirling water, 9-year-old twins James DiLorenzo (left) and Connor DiLorenzo (right), of East Providence, play in the WATER WAYS exhibit at the Providence Children’s Museum. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The museum also cut costs, laid off staff, and delayed the introduction of new exhibits. But raising awareness among families is the next important step. During the pandemic, they introduced virtual programs, like book readings with celebrities and New England Revolution football stars. They have partnered with the state Department of Education to help with online enrichment programs and professional development trainings for teachers. And they’ve launched interactive Zoom seminars, like one where kids could interview a scientist (recently, they featured a vet from Providence River Animal Hospital) and started virtual DIY classes.

“We’ve lost a generation of little ones to COVID,” Payson said. “When you think about the lifespan of someone who comes to a children’s museum, it’s 0 to about 10 years. We just reduced from 16 to 18 months. It’s a long period of time.

The Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Other museums aimed at young audiences face similar problems, including the Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art. Most of their visitors are ages 8 and up and interactive exhibits are their specialty.

“We’re trying to get people to see the world the way artists and scientists do, and how it could be better,” said Julia Miller, who joined the museum’s board in May. When the museum first reopened last summer, during the pandemic, they were by appointment only, seeing only about 25% of their normal level of visitors.

Alexa Gagosz can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.

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