Struggling St. George Children’s Museum looks for community support

ST. GEORGE — The St. George Children’s Museum closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the closure just happened to come at the worst time possible for the museum. With schools in the area letting out in March, the Children’s Museum generally sees their attendance rise along with their revenue. The revenue they make during the summer helps them push through the rest of the year.

Picture of the St. George Children’s Museum in St. George, Utah, June 26, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

This year, they lost their busiest months. For April, they had zero guests come into the museum whereas in April of 2019, the museum saw 10,868 guests with their total revenue being $45,772.

Those numbers continued in June with the museum reopened, with under 2,000 people visiting while June of 2019 saw over 10,000 guests as well.

“There’s no good time for a pandemic, but this couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” St. George Children’s Museum Executive Director Anita Wotkyns said. “We were seeing tremendous momentum, growth and everything was looking really amazing. If we can’t keep doors open, that impacts what we’re able to put into the exhibits, it impacts what programs we’re able to run and it impacts who I’m able to staff. We’ve already had to do some layoffs, like probably most organizations, and we were already a small-staffed organization to begin with. You lower our staff too much and that means we just can’t function which means doors will close for maybe certain days of the week. It really hinders what we are able to provide back to the community.”

Luckily for the museum, they were able to receive some payroll protections during the shutdown but things did not just bounce back to what they were before.

Wotkyns also spoke about the mix between people who want things to get back to normal and those who are still somewhat worried about the virus. This is especially important in a museum that prides itself on hands-on learning, which adds to the possibility of exposure. She described it as a 50/50 mix in the community.

Picture inside the St. George Children’s Museum in St. George, Utah, June 26, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

As for their sanitation procedures, they have blocks during the day where they are open but they close their doors for two hours during the day so that they can deep clean the entire facility. This includes fogging every room as well as wiping down every room. The team at the museum also removes all toys that could be handled and moves them for cleaning.

“We’re doing our absolute best to try and keep things as clean as possible, safe for our staff and safe for our guests,” St. George Children’s Museum Development Coordinator Riley Brown said.

With the updated sanitation efforts, there are also some exhibits in the museum that are closed as a result of how hands-on they are. For instance, the grocery store exhibit has been closed for now because it does not make sense to keep it open when so much of the exhibit is meant to be handled.

The biggest message Wotkyns had for the community was that the museum is theirs. She talked about how growth in communities starts with the youth and they learn to be good community members in various ways, the museum being one of them.

Picture inside the St. George Children’s Museum in St. George, Utah, June 26, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

“If you are going to be donating or helping and organization through this kind of thing, what better way to help your entire community then helping a cultural organization that is unique to the community and gives back to young members of the community,” Wotkyns said.

She also spoke on the importance of donations and how they are able to stretch a dollar a long way. They have business sponsorship opportunities where businesses can get memberships that will then benefit their workers and their children. They offer after-hours events and customization when it comes to their sponsorship opportunities.

“Everything goes right back into the museum,” Brown said. “People freak out about non-profits and think they’re paying for someones big salary. That doesn’t exist. People think that their tax dollars are paying for this so why should they also donate, how is the city not keeping us afloat? We are not affiliated with the city. They own our building but we are our own separate entity.”

Another way for people in the community to help is to link their Smith’s card or their Amazon account to the museum, with a percentage of the funds spent going to them. You just have to register them both with the St. George Children’s museum.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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