The last family left our building at 5:00 pm on March 13, 2020 and we have been closed to the general public ever since... that is, until a little over a month ago.
The Children's Museum in Oak Lawn reopened our doors for private rentals last month. It's been a long journey to get to this point. The number one question I am getting these days is "When will the museum be able to reopen?" I'm going to attempt to answer that question here, but to "cut to the quick," we are looking at a reopen date of October 17, 2020. But there is more to that story...
When Illinois released its "Restore Illinois" guidelines for phase 4, children's museums throughout the state that were looking to open saw the guidelines for "Museums" and believed that these were the guidelines we needed to live by. We at the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn felt the same. I mean, we identify as a museum. It's in our name.
Over the past roughly 60-75 days, many children's museums have been working to try to get the state to adopt guidelines specifically for children's museums. We've presented these guidelines to DCEO, IDPH and the Governor's office but there has been little to no movement at the time I am writing this.
Internally at the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn, we continued to have discussions about the guidelines for museums. The "Restore Illinois" guidelines defines a museum as follows: Establishments primarily engaged in the preservation and exhibition of objects of historical, cultural, and/or educational value.
"Establishments primarily engaged in the preservation and exhibition of objects..." Most of you reading this have been to a children's museum and know that this isn't who we are. I began asking "Why are we handcuffing our organization to a guideline that doesn't even define us?" Sure we have 'museum' in our name, but this definition doesn't define the work we do as we are not "primarily engaged in the preservation and exhibition of objects."
I looked at the definition for Indoor and Outdoor Recreation. This is defined as "Customer-facing establishments engaged in providing indoor and outdoor recreational and amusement services." Arcades fall in this category.
One has to ask, "How can arcades be open with skee ball games and video games where you sit on a motorcycle or in a pretend car be okay, but educational institutions like children's museums not be okay to open?" In a sense, we are amusement and fun, but children's museums are so much more than that with interactive learning at our core! The state guidelines for museums state that hands-on exhibits should be closed, but you can go play skeeball, etc. at an arcade or place of amusement.
Given all of this, the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn's leadership and Board of Directors decided that because the definition for museums does not reflect the work we do, we would follow the guidelines for indoor recreation even though it leaves out the key education piece which better defines us. We do not make this decision lightly, but until the state of Illinois adopts specific standards for our field, we are left with no choice but to make the best decision we can using the guidelines available that better align with the work we do.
Currently, our museum store is open with specific hours each week. You can also shop right on our website. We are also open for private rentals so if you need a space for that birthday party or baby shower or other event, let us know.
In August we announced that we are partnering with Ivy League Kids to provide all-day programming at the museum Monday through Friday. With many schools going to hybrid remote models or full remote models of learning, families are faced with the challenges of balancing work with their children being at home. This is a new and exciting venture for us as we are now entering our fourth week.
Now, we are announcing that we plan to open the museum for general admittance on October 17, 2020. We are going to start with weekends only to see how it goes. Tickets will have to be purchased online and per the state guidelines entry of up to 50 people will be allowed. More detailed information will be coming out in early October.
For our members, we are adding the time you lost on your membership. We want to make sure that you get the maximum benefit you paid for that membership and even with this limited opening you will (1) be able to reserve your tickets online at no charge and (2) we are not starting the "membership clock" just yet so even during our limited opening we will continue to be adding time to your membership.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have donated or have gone ahead and renewed that membership (or purchased that first time membership) during our closure. That revenue has helped us make many of the necessary updates that we needed to make.
This is a challenge like no other that we have faced both as an institution and a society. We appreciate that you have stood beside us while going through your own, personal struggles. We will reopen and because of you and your support, we will come out of this stronger.