MILWAUKEE — Four Milwaukee Museums will reopen in March. Not among them is the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, which has been shut down for 11 straight months now due to COVID-19. Leaders of the museum are studying how to rethink their hands-on exhibits in this new reality.
“We’re not there yet,” said Brian King, the Executive Director of Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.
He has been working closely with the Milwaukee Health Department. But, unlike the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Museum, the Harley Davidson Museum and Discovery World, Betty Brinn will not be reopening to the public next month - mainly due to the interactive design of the museum, and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to enforce physical distancing among toddlers and preschoolers.
“Unlike some of the museums that can offer a clear, unilateral path through the building, our kids are like pinballs when they come enjoy our space,” King said.
Betty Brinn has been able to repurpose grant money from Kohl’s typically used for field trips, to instead offer free educational workshops online for schools.
“About 1,200 kids have either taken a workshop or are already booked for one, and we’re expecting another 800 plus by the end of the school year,” King said. “It makes it accessible to all. These workshops are live, cultural, interactive. The kits are mailed to the school or to a child’s home.”
Donors and government stimulus money have kept Betty Brinn Children’s Museum afloat, as revenue from ticket and membership sales, as well as events, dried-up. The museum had to let go of about 46 employees at the beginning of the pandemic.
Museum leadership is calling how they’ll operate from now on “a new frontier.”
“We want to get a bus or a big panel truck and get it all decorated and make it scream ‘Children’s Museum,’ and pack it with mobile museum experiences and the hundreds of interactive workshops we’ve developed over time, so we can go on the road and reach kids and places directly and safely,” King said.
That idea, called the “The Betty Brinn Road Show,” is already starting to be developed and partially funded.
King anticipates Betty Brinn Children’s Museum to open with some changes and reduced hours this summer, as long as coronavirus cases and vaccination rates keep improving.