By Collette Michaud, Children’s Museum of Sonoma County
The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (CMOSC) closed to the public on March 13, 2020, and has remained closed since then. We have plans to reopen our outside exhibit area by April 2021, and the interior by the summer. First opened in 2014, CMOSC occupies a repurposed, sixty year-old building. While we are located on more than four acres of land, the museum has only 7,000 square feet of indoor space split between exhibits and administration.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CMOSC’s 1,200-square-foot office space was maxed out, with more than twelve team members sitting shoulder to shoulder. Because we simply did not have the space for more desks, we were constrained in hiring additional team members. At least half of the desks were claimed by part-time team members who only worked two or three days a week. My office did triple duty as the only conference room—when I wasn’t working in it—and storage space. Prior to the pandemic, the idea of team members working from home was not considered viable for many reasons, such as accountability and regular and meaningful communication. To address our conflicting needs for growth coupled the lack of office space, we spent time and money on an expansion master plan that would double our office space at a cost of millions and take years to successfully complete. There seemed to be no other choice.
We discovered Zoom within days of closing the museum. Although we had previously used Zoom to attend webinars, we never considered it as a tool for operations. Overnight, as team members were was forced to work from home, it became our main tool of communication. We found that it was now possible to effectively and productively communicate with each other regardless of location. This was revelatory.
If there is a silver lining to downsizing our staff due to our COVID-based closure, we no longer have the problem of too many employees in one office space. Now there is room for a shared worktable, desktop laser printer, vinyl cutter, and meeting space. When we reopen and grow staff again, we plan to have “plop” spaces that can be shared among team members on different days—thus eliminating the need for so many desks in one space. Zoom has provided us the flexibility to reorganize and more effectively make use of our small office space.
During our temporary shutdown, another unintended use of our space emerged. The local symphony contacted us looking for a large space to safely hold practice sessions with their youth musicians. We made a portion of our outdoor area available to them once a week at no cost, working together to cross-promote our organizations through social media to area donors. After promoting this partnership in our e-newsletter, there was some confusion about the equitable use of our outdoor space from some of our members. If an outside group could use it, why couldn’t they? So, while the orchestra has continued to practice here, opening the museum’s outdoor area for special events or other reservation-only uses is under review.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to seriously rethink the expansion plan for our building, as we’ve realized creating more indoor office space is no longer the priority we once thought it was. It has also opened our eyes to other ways we can use our outdoor space moving forward, and the underlying equity issues involved in those decisions.
Collette Michaud is the CEO and founder of the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, California.