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Dear Friend of the Museums,
I recently returned from two days in Washington, D.C. with colleagues from around the country, part of an annual Museums Advocacy Day organized by the American Association of Museums. The stories we shared with members of Congress centered on the value of a museum and its programs to our communities. It was reassuring to find that many of our legislators were aware of this impact, but I also found that some were surprised at the depth of our contributions. In the case of The Discovery Museums, I would say that centers around the fact that we are more than a rainy day destination: we offer hands-on opportunities for kids to explore their natural curiosity in art, math, science, and music with their families; we bring the latest cool science (or STEM concepts, to use the lingo) to kids' classrooms; we open our doors to underserved populations, typically for free; and we have been honored with competitive national grants to undertake some of these initiatives. Needless to say, we did our best to spread our message and bring awareness to this important work.
The Discovery Museums have been a part of the greater Boston fabric for almost 30 years, and now more than ever seem to be something families rely upon as part of their lives. Recent trends in attendance show this: January visitation was 36% higher than 2011, and in February 35% more people visited than a year ago. And our visitors are enjoying themselves: according to a recent survey, more than 92% said they would recommend The Discovery Museums to a friend. Also, we reached an important milestone at the end of February as we passed 2030 member families, completing a two-year focused effort that increased membership by 71%!
Part of the attraction to the Museums so far this year has been some great programming related to nanotechnology. The Discovery Museums is part of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net), a national community of researchers and informal science educators dedicated to fostering public awareness, engagement, and understanding of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. At the end of March we will offer a full week of exciting NanoDays™ programs, part of a nationwide festival of hands-on educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering. Kids and families will get to see nano gold, make a DNA necklace, change the color of a butterfly's wings, play I Spy Nano, and more. NISE Net is supported with funding from the National Science Foundation.
It is wonderful to get grant support to offset the costs of important programming. In earlier updates, I've written about Especially for Me!, our program that serves families with children on the autism spectrum and families with deaf or hard of hearing children. This important program is supported in 2012 by funding from the Youth in Philanthropy Club at Acton-Boxborough High School (pictured at left), Boston Bruins Foundation, CVS, Foundation for MetroWest, Morgan Stanley, Nypro and fifteen separate grants from the local resident-administered cultural councils of Acton, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Framingham, Harvard, Hudson, Lawrence, Leominster, Littleton, Natick, Waltham, Wayland, Westford and Weston. We also receive generous in-kind support from Not Your Average Joe's. This funding has meant that these fabulous programs are free to the families that participate.
Have I told you about First Friday Nights Free? Last summer we were open for free every Friday night, and it quickly became very popular. So popular in fact that we are now offering free admission on the first Friday night of every month during the school year. Thanks to support from Acorn Deck House Company and Emerson Hospital, hundreds of families get free family fun each month, and we have more to celebrate about connecting with our communities. Families who visit on these free evenings have been very generous, bringing donations to the Acton Food Pantry in lieu of paying admission.
Once again we have been successful in highly competitive national funding awards. We recently began "Exhibit Lab," a three-year project funded by the federal Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS). With our partner museums—the EcoTarium in Worcester, The ECHO Center on Lake Champlain in Burlington VT, and the Children's Museum and Theater of Maine, in Portland—we will collaboratively explore the best in exhibit development techniques and produce two new exhibits, while preparing ourselves for even more exhibit making in our future.
In 2012 The Discovery Museums will reach an important historical milestone. Starting with a big kickoff weekend in June, we will celebrate our 30th Anniversary—30 Years of Inspiring Curiosity—over the subsequent 12 months. Right now we are busily signing up partners for the celebrations and planning the events. If you would like to be involved, please let me know. And please save the date for our 30th Anniversary Gala on September 29, a celebration of the curious kid in us all! It promises to be a night of music, dancing and fun.
Thank you for all of your support and for taking the time to read these brief updates. Support from you and from all of our friends in the greater Boston area means so much to us. Hope to see you at the museums soon.
Neil H. Gordon
Chief Executive Officer