Seattle Children's Museum bucks a post-Sept. 11 trend; no lay-offs at the museum, despite nationwide drop in museum attendance

"What we saw was essentially no negative change," said Stephen McGraw, executive director of the museum. That's not to say staff members at the Seattle Center museum weren't expecting the worst, he said.
"We were all traumatized, just like everyone else, and then we were talking to our colleagues at the (Pacific) Science Center, the Space Needle (and) other attractions, and they were saying they were seeing a big drop."
September is typically a slow month anyway, because summer vacation is over and school hasn't kicked into high gear yet, McGraw said.
But a big drop in attendance "could really hurt us and could really put us into financial trouble," he said of the nonprofit organization.
The hammer didn't drop, though. Around 10,600 visitors came through the museum last September, which was a barely perceptible dip of less than 200 from a year before, McGraw said.
October attendance jumped to around 12,000, up about 700 from last year's figures, while approximately 14,400 people visited the museum in November, an increase of almost 400 from a year before.
December, normally a slow month, saw a drop of about 600 from a year ago to around 12,400. However, the pace picked up substantially with 15,800 visitors this January and 18,504 in February. The February figures are up more than 5,000 from a year ago, McGraw said.

A positive pattern
McGraw believes The Children's Museum bucked the trend, in part, because families were traveling less and because the museum is one of only a few places to take very young children.
"And The Children's Museum is a safe place," he stressed.
Nancy Chamberlain, Ph.D., refused to let fear take over her family's life. The Woodinville resident was visiting the museum with her daughter for the first time last week, but Chamberlain said her family went to the circus at the Seattle Center a week after the terrorist attacks.
"You've got to live your life; you can't hide in your house all the time," Chamberlain said, as she played cashier with a bunch of kids in the museum's pretend grocery store.
Michelle Teifke - who was also in the make-believe shop with her daughter - wasn't as anxious to go out following the attacks.
"I think the first few months we didn't do a whole lot," said the Bothell resident.
Heather Stanley, who lives near Woodinville, was also in the pretend grocery with a son and a daughter. She said her family had the urge to hunker down and stay home after Sept. 11.
"But with two kids, you can't hunker down too much," Stanley said of the obvious.
McGraw said the museum laid off some staff members around two years ago during a reorganization.
"We had overstaffed to the amount of revenue we were bringing in," he explained.
The number of employees has remained steady since then, though, and the museum actually hired a new development director a couple of weeks ago, McGraw said.

New exhibit a boost
Noting that there has been a general upsurge lately of families doing things together, McGraw said the museum's latest exhibit has also helped attendance.
Called "Leap, Pounce, Growl: Animals in African Masks, Textiles and Story," the exhibit opened in February and is the result of a collaboration with the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), McGraw said.
Designed by Marita Dingus, "Leap, Pounce, Growl" is meant to complement SAM's current exhibit, "Long Steps Never Broke a Back: Art from Africa in America." The African exhibit - which includes hands-on art activities for children - is tapping into an increased interest in other cultures since Sept. 11, he said.
"And we are known to be one of the family venues where you can learn about and explore different cultures in a very positive and educational way."
It's the second collaboration between the two museums. The Children's Museum set up its own exhibit last year to accompany SAM's show on portrait artist John Singer Sargent, McGraw said.
The collaboration with SAM was a deliberate effort that serves a secondary goal: turning The Children's Museum into "an audience-developer for mainstream arts and cultural institutions," he said.

Museum still growing
The Children's Museum is also exploring other options for increasing membership numbers.
"The day after Thanksgiving, we launched a joint (family) membership program with the (Pacific) Science Center," McGraw said. "For one discounted price, you can buy one membership that will give you access to both locations."
The effort is paying off. Chamberlain said she visited The Children's Museum because she has a family membership to the Pacific Science Center.
The Children's Museum also has plans for opening a second museum in Bellevue, McGraw said. The museum, he said, has already launched a capital campaign and raised around $1 million of the $4 million cost of the new location. The Children's Museum in Bellevue will be set up in an existing building and should be open next year, McGraw said.
Exhibits might be moved from museum to museum, but McGraw said the Bellevue museum won't take a rubber-stamp approach to its operations. As for joint memberships for the two children's museums, McGraw said he'd like to see that happen.
"It would be a great partnership."

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