Our philosophy starts with the simple belief that kids are capable of incredible things. Our job is to nurture that ability; our goal is to support kids' healthy development. Play is how kids learn--here, it is in both a STEM-rich environment and inviting outdoor experience.
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Dear Friend of the Museums,
What a fantastic job I have! Where else can a very successful year include being able to say things such as:
We got kids bouncing and climbing on a cargo net!
A 51-year old was in a treehouse for the first time in his life!
Adults re-visited their childhood with hula-hoops!
Kids spent days rescuing dinosaurs from bubbling mud pits!
With your indulgence, I would like to reflect on the museums and our progress in 2016. For the last two years we have been focused on four main goals:
- Grow the museum to reach more families and ensure the sustainability of the museum.
- Improve access to ensure that the successful learning experiences we offer are available to all kids.
- Get kids back outdoors, moving, exploring, and connecting to the natural world.
- Be a voice for play as the way kids learn, grow, and develop.
We furthered all four goals with the opening of Discovery Woods in July. With an investment of $1.5M, we added nearly an acre of outdoor, nature-based, fully accessible play. This important physical growth allowed us to serve many more people, with attendance during the last six months of 2016 increasing by 30% over 2015. Membership, a key metric of how much people value the museum, increased by 23% in 2016—the fifth straight year of double-digit growth.
Discovery Woods is reconnecting families to the outdoors, demonstrating the power of unstructured outdoor play in kids' lives, and offering the opportunity for kids of all abilities to play together. We are extremely proud that Discovery Woods, the epitome of our efforts to make the museums an inclusive environment, has been awarded a 2017 Commonwealth Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the only winner in the Access category. We will formally accept the award at the State House on February 15.
Discovery Woods lets us do important new work with kids outdoors. Our award-winning Especially for Me program series, serving kids and families with disabilities, now includes outdoor activities and can be hosted in the treehouse. Our Backyard and Beyond program series, which connects families with the simple joys of outdoor exploration, has expanded through programs such as Nature Playgroup (now Forest Friday), Great Hill Explorations, and What's the Weather Wednesday—programs that get even the youngest kids outside in all kinds of weather for nature exploration.
Funding for the next phase of our capital plan took several major leaps forward in 2016. In March we received a second challenge grant from the Manton Foundation, a $1M Community Challenge. By year-end 2016 we had raised $650,000 towards the $1M goal, the centerpiece of which is a $300,000 Massachusetts Cultural facilities grant. Fundraising continues towards the Community Challenge's deadline this March.
Our plans for physical growth moved forward as we completed design of major expansion and renovation of the Science Discovery building. This work will commence in the spring, with the ambitious goal of opening before year-end.
The Discovery Museums continue to fill an important need for STEM education in the early grades. Traveling Science Workshops grew by 4% in 2016, reaching more than 30,000 students in elementary school classrooms in 99 different towns throughout the state. We expanded our catalog to 25 workshops by adding five new topics; all workshops align with state science standards. Importantly, we increased access to hands-on STEM in underserved communities with a 24% increase in students served.
Access for all remains a critical objective of our Board and staff. Open Door Connections, our program of free or highly subsidized services, benefited more than 50,000 people in 2016, up from 44,000 in 2015! We have more than doubled the size of Open Door over the past few years and continue to seek new partners in our efforts to increase awareness and usage of this initiative.
We are also proud of the important conversatipted by the 2016 Discovery Museum Speaker Series. A record number of attendees at these free and open events participated in discussions including helping kids deal with pressure, resiliency, supporting generosity, social justice, and learning through play. Our final speaker, Dropbox Founder Drew Houston, spoke about the connections between his early years visiting the Discovery Museums and his success as a high tech entrepreneur.
With the financial support of the Sudbury Foundation, we completed a major transformation of our website, with the critical objective of ensuring the site is accessible to all. We are really pleased that both user feedback and formal testing indicate that we achieved our objective, creating a site that is usable by those with vision issues, hearing loss, and mobility challenges. We continue to make modifications as we learn even more about the best ways to provide an accessible portal to our work. If you haven't already, check it out now at www.discoverymuseums.org.
We are all anticipating an exciting 2017—which has already begun with an 11% increase in visitation in January—that will see big changes here. Please let me know how you think we are doing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best in 2017,
Neil H. Gordon
Chief Executive Officer