Spotlight on Satellite Museums: The Children’s Museum of the Upstate

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The following post appears in the latest issue of Hand to Hand, ACM’s quarterly journal. The article is a case study of The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU) in Greenville, SC, and its satellite museum, TCMU-Spartanburg. The Q&A was conducted between Mary Maher, editor of Hand to Hand, and David Wood, chief operating officer of TCMU.

TCMU-Spartanburg includes 6,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space with seven exhibits designed specifically for children ages birth to five. The two-story site also includes a large classroom, sales area, small office, restrooms, and an elevator.

The museum is located in downtown Spartanburg and is attached to other historic storefront businesses. The venue is easily accessible with street-level access in the front and a large public parking lot directly across the street.

Why did you open a satellite?
In 2016, The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU) launched a five-year strategic plan that included the goal of “developing outreach experiences that engage regional communities and invite them to visit TCMU.” Through partnerships and programming for communities within a forty-five-minute drive of our flagship museum in Greenville (TCMU-Greenville), we considered not only outreach activities but possible satellite locations outside of Greenville County.

Where is it? Describe the community in which it is located.
TCMU-Spartanburg is thirty-five miles, or within a forty-five-minute drive, from TCMU-Greenville. The “Upstate” region includes ten counties in the commerce-rich I-85 corridor in the northwest corner of South Carolina, home to the cities of Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson. As of 2016, the area includes a population of 1,347,112 people. Situated between Atlanta and Charlotte, the Upstate is the fastest-growing region of South Carolina. Greenville, the largest city in the region with a population of 67,453 and an urban-area population of 400,492, is the base of most commercial activity. Spartanburg, followed by Anderson, is next in population.

Over the last several years, downtown Spartanburg has been undergoing a major transformation, and the growth is evident. However, nearly 55 percent of Spartanburg children ages three to four are not enrolled in preschool, resulting in an enormous deficit in kindergarten readiness. TCMU-Spartanburg’s goal is to aid local families with school—and particularly kindergarten—readiness, as defined by the Spartanburg Community Indicators Project and the Spartanburg Academic Movement.

When did it open?
A ribbon cutting and VIP event was held on May 15, 2018. We opened to the public the following day.

Who initiated the process?
Museum leaders began conversations about the Spartanburg space in late October 2016. The board approved the proposed plan in March 2017 and a final lease agreement was signed the next month. An exhibit design/build contract was signed in early May with Kraemer Design + Production, Inc. The initial design charrette was held that month to gather input from staff and community stakeholders. Building upfit began in June 2017 and all of the exhibit design and fabrication ran concurrently.

Does the satellite have an ongoing partnership with any local entities?
The museum is working with city and county governments, school administrators in multiple school districts, corporations, businesses with local headquarters, and other nonprofits with similar missions to ensure the museum’s development and programming meets community needs. While no formal partnerships were formed, the museum received some funding from the city and additional support from corporate and individual donors.

Do you rent or own the building? What’s the length of commitment?
The museum has a five-year lease with options to extend. We have a graduating discounted rent rate: in year three, the rent will go up by fifty cents per square foot; in year five, it will go up another fifty cents per square foot. At that point we will be at market rate.

Who is the audience?
Families, caregivers, and educators who have or care for children ages birth to five. The flagship museum targets a similar audience but includes children ages birth to twelve.

Is it a scaled down version of the flagship museum? Or does it have a dedicated focus?
TCMU-Spartanburg is designed to accommodate the physical, cognitive, and social needs of children five and under, both in square footage and exhibit scale and design. (For comparison, TCMU’s flagship museum features 80,000 square feet with twenty exhibit spaces.) The museum enables area families to regularly participate in free-with-admission programs that prepare children for academic success. Spartanburg programming is aligned with what has been most successful at the Greenville flagship, including daily Story Time, music and movement programs, the Off the Wall art program, Sensory Friendly Days, and Random Acts of Science. All programs feature lots of cooperative, physical play.

In fall 2018, TCMU-Spartanburg will host field trips for groups of three-to-five-year-olds that will include free play with an option of adding classroom programs that cater to SC State Standards. Beginning in 2019, the museum will host multiple special events that parallel those happening at TCMU-Greenville.

What is the budget and management structure?
The satellite has two full-time staff, a site director, and a site manager, supported by ten part-time staff. Spartanburg-specific programs and events are managed locally. The flagship runs all other executive, marketing, fundraising, and operations functions. The satellite maintains a site-specific budget that is part of the overall TCMU budget. All revenue is processed through the flagship museum, which also coordinates all fundraising activities. Funds raised on behalf of the Spartanburg location directly support the satellite’s programming and outreach activities.

What about membership/admissions/marketing?
During the first full month of operations, 30 percent of visitors were members. Annual memberships are reciprocal.

TCMU-Greenville admission is $9/child and $10/adult; TCMU-Spartanburg admission is $5 per person (children and adults).

With both museums sharing an overlapping market, a single marketing plan promotes the museum experience and benefits at both locations. We communicate TCMU-Spartanburg-specific programming through a targeted email contact list, developed by leveraging partner relationships, engaging visitors at the door, and through social media and our website. The museum website features a gateway hub page that allows users to select the site they want to visit. Visitors are then routed to site-specific websites that include all of the information relevant to the correct museum location

DO’s:

  • Stay true to your mission.
  • Work with the community to identify a very specific need that you have the capacity to fill.
  • Find partners and donors that share the passion and see the value of creating an informal learning environment in their community.
  • Be conservative with projections for potential attendance, revenue, etc. Fund the project and first year of operations before opening the doors.

To read other articles in the “Satellite Museums” issue of Hand to Hand, subscribe todayACM members also receive both digital and printed complimentary copies of Hand to Hand. ACM members can access their copies through the Digital Resource Library–-contact Membership@ChildrensMuseums.org to gain access if needed. 

David Wood is Chief Operating Officer of The Children’s Museum of the Upstate.

Photo credit: Mark Susko