Children’s Museum offers virtual activities, aims for 2023 reopening

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On March 4, 2020, the Utica Children’s Museum announced that it would be closing at the end of the month to create a new, state-of-the-art museum and by relocating to the Parkway in Utica.

This will be a first-of-its-kind Family Resource Center that will house ICAN family-based programs, community space and the new Children’s Museum.

About 10 days later, COVID hit and like so many others, the museum closed its doors, but work continued.

As with any major, groundbreaking project of this magnitude, the team assembled to assist through each step needed to be the best in the business. Before the announcement, the Children’s Museum had sought out and engaged with Hands On! Studio – an internationally-renowned design firm out of Florida that has created modern spaces and experiences for children’s museums around the world. It also began work with Barbara Leggett who led Explore & More Children’s Museum in Buffalo for 25 years and successfully launched their $29 million transformation and oversaw the initial development of their new space at Canalside on the Buffalo waterfront.

The architectural piece of the project is in the capable and creative hands of Albany-based CSArch – an architecture, engineering, and construction management firm that has experience with museum design and collaborative mixed use spaces. Each partner has been to Utica for multiple site visits to begin their respective work and then transitioned to virtual sessions with the museum’s local team from March 2020 to date.

Since fall 2020, the museum team has also been working closely with the IDEA Center at SUNY Buffalo School of Architecture, which is helping to plan the first museum in the nation to focus on both building and exhibit design that is fully inclusive.

ICAN/Utica Children’s Museum was awarded a nearly $200,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in August 2020 to assist the museum with this effort.

The Children’s Museum will be the first museum to be designed through a trauma-informed lens using universal design concepts to serve children who are on the autism spectrum, have experienced trauma or live in poverty.

Museum planning and schematic design is underway with the guidance of Hands On! The new museum will feature all new exhibits, content and experiences in spaces that are fully immersive. Exhibits and programming will highlight special aspects of Central New York and focus on “loving where we live.” This deliberate planning to make the new space reflective of the community 

New Museum Director, Donna Migliaccio, took the helm in November 2019. She has been working closely with all partners on large scale strategy and planning, but has also undertaken the task of cleaning out the former museum building.

Based on guidance from experts in the museum field, this process has included extensive research and collections management.

Hundreds of items have been returned to their original owners and donors. Items that belonged in other museums have been transferred, with many local and state agencies gaining objects that more rightfully belong in their collections. Migliaccio has worked diligently with experts at the New York State Museum, The Rome Historical Society, The Oneida County History Center and the Oneida Nation along with community leaders and others to ensure that select items from the museum are where they fit best and where they can continue to be displayed or shared for many years to come.

Following best practices in the museum field, items that will not be rehomed at the new museum will be auctioned by Auctions International.    

Still active
in the community

With the museum closed and with the world in a pandemic, in-person events or activities of any kind were impossible, so the team increased social media, email and blog activity, sharing fun downloadables, inspiration, activities and hope. The Children’s Museum held a New Year’s Eve Memory Box fundraiser in December giving families a “party in a box” to ring in 2021 safely at home. The museum’s recent diverse array of February Break activities welcomed close to 500 sign ups and we are in the midst of planning virtual activities for Spring Break in April. 

What’s Next

When the museum is confident in the safety of children and community in returning to events and school programming, the museum will launch its Mobile Museum and have a physical presence in the public while work at the new museum continues.

“We look forward to informing the community monthly about all of the important components of the project as we move forward towards our goal of opening our new children’s museum in 2023.”

Members of the community can stay up-to-date with the museum by signing up for email updates on www.uticaCM.org or by following the Children’s Museum on social media.

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