Museum Guild 2021

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By Tara MacDougall, Discovery Center at Murfree Spring

During pandemic pause and reset, four weeks into our closure to the public in April of 2020, we scanned our community for signals: what were the immediate needs and what was the long-term view? How could we strengthen our partnerships?

For years, Discovery Center (DC) had tossed around the idea of an “ambassadorial” group—young parents and caregivers who may not have the immediate financial capacity to be donors, but embrace play, accessibility, and inclusivity. This group would be in the tradition of supportive museum guilds of the past, but with a different mission and makeup. Our participation in the Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI) was transformational in terms focusing our vision on creating change through incremental actions. However, until the pandemic pause, the ambassadorial group never materialized.

DC started exploring this model by surveying and having conservations with our members and guests. Following this outreach we were approached by Julie King, a dedicated member and passionate advocate for the Discovery Center. Like many of us saddened by the disparity and inequities revealed through the pandemic, Julie was determined to do something to make her community more welcoming to newcomers and create a space where families from diverse backgrounds could find a hub. While DC had long considered starting an ambassadorial group, her contributions sparked the transformation into what would become our Discovery Guild.

Within weeks, we held our first interest meeting and established the Discovery Guild with its own board of directors, consisting of seventeen community leaders, and a chair, who also serves a one-year term on the center’s board of directors. Naturally, that dedicated member and passionate advocate, who was the guild’s catalyst, is its inaugural president. Given the museum’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion and today’s ongoing national reckoning with racism, we wanted the guild board to reflect the diverse families we serve each day. It was also critical that the guild board hold the needs of the most under-resourced families at the heart of their outreach and fundraising efforts.

“We have the ability to stretch the possibilities of play, education and wonder, in the lives of our youngest members of society, via equitable and shared experiences. All of which support the mission of DC, by engaging curious minds to fuel the future.”

Discovery Guild co-creator Regina Ward

Discovery Guild leadership created the following mission statement: “The Discovery Guild is a network for families, caregivers and community leaders to connect and engage within the mission of Discovery Center. They embrace the vision of our local children’s museum to ‘value meaningful exchange on societal issues where understanding of science is essential’—and always in the spirit of tolerance, peace, and respect for cultural identities and diversity.” Through social networking and fundraising, the guild strengthens ties among the many communities who gather and learn at Discovery Center and bridges the gap to those communities we struggle to serve.

Guild co-creator and community volunteer Regina Ward had the following to say about her work with Discovery Guild:

“Being a part of forming the guild is one of the most exciting advocacy opportunities I have ever had. The hope and desire that this organization can not only help to fund the outstanding work of the Discovery Center, but also to open the minds and hearts of our community is outstanding. We have the ability to stretch the possibilities of play, education and wonder, in the lives of our youngest members of society, via equitable and shared experiences. All of which support the mission of DC, by engaging curious minds to fuel the future.”

At the Discovery Guild board’s second meeting, each member completed a survey to determine what area of the museum’s mission they would like to support and how their fundraising dollars would be allocated. The board decided almost unanimously to focus on DC’s diversity and inclusion efforts (free days, special needs nights, etc.). They also decided they would prefer dollars raised by guild fundraisers to be directed toward free memberships for underserved families and ensure that the center remains a hub for STEAM learning for every child regardless of any physical, cognitive, cultural, or economic circumstance. A community solicitation, launched in late February, will expand the guild beyond its founding board members. We plan to recruit from our whole community, as well as reach out to multicultural partners. With a guild that reflects the diversity of our community, we’ll share clear messaging about Discovery Center’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Discovery Guild is a key ingredient in Discovery Center’s development strategic plan to increase donor cultivation. The annual membership fee to join the guild is $25. Guild members are also charged with hosting an annual membership wine-and-cheese solicitation event and a major fundraiser each fall. However, this group will expand the role of the traditional museum guilds of the past. Meetings are filled with fresh, creative, and thought-provoking ideas. More important than the fundraising, the guild will have significant potential for creating more inclusive experiences, engaging more diverse visitors, and creating a brighter future for our regional children’s museum.     

Prior to assuming the role of president and CEO of the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring in 2012, Tara MacDougall was a wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual.

Photo credits:
Regina Ward (left), photo by John Goodman Photography
Julie King (right), photo by A Seaton Photography – Amy Nolen