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Letters from Erika: The Journey and The Destination

October 30, 2018 9:53 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)
Dear Members, Friends, and Colleagues

If I am lucky along my travels, I can stop to visit a museum, meet an industry partner, or walk in one of our beautiful state parks. I wish I could accept every invitation extended along the journey, but my plans are frequently diverted before I can measure the miles to home. Last week time was on my side and I got to see the new Kids Rockwell Art Lab, across from a pizza place and three doors down from the ice cream store on Market Street in Corning. 


The Rockwell Museum began thinking about the Art Lab as a way to continue to serve family audiences during a construction project to replace the second and third-floor gallery windows that required the removal of collections and the closure of the family engagement studio. A Market Street double storefront space was available and a satellite museum space was born. The Kid’s Rockwell Art Lab opened in mid-September on the day of Corning’s Harvest Festival. Three hundred people attended and great press coverage followed. Brian Whisenhunt, the Rockwell Museum’s Executive Director said that he knew that the Art Lab was a success when a toddler had a “melt-down” when told it was time to leave—an achievement indicator familiar to children’s museums and science center staff.

Although the Art Lab represents a major new investment, the need for space during construction was real and the museum’s commitment to serving its family audiences is strong. With few low-cost, indoor winter activities available to families in the region, the Art Lab will be a creative option on a snowy day. Adult admission fees cover both the Art Lab and the Rockwell Museum and admission is free to kids 17 and under.

As many local private foundation funds were committed when the need for space became apparent, and capital support was dedicated to the window replacement project, the Rockwell was challenged to secure enough financial support before they could open Art Lab’s doors. With creative re-use and a small budget, the Rockwell filled the space with activities from the museum’s family engagement studio, borrowed furniture, and recycled the admissions desk from a recently-closed department store. Along with the addition of two staff to the Visitor Services department, the biggest investments were associated with getting the Art Lab up to current building codes with the addition of bathrooms, wheel-chair accessibility, and a new coat of bright paint.  

Future plans for The Kid’s Rockwell Art Lab include developing partnerships with teachers and high school students, changing activities three times a year to coincide with exhibitions on view at the Rockwell Museum, and hosting the traveling exhibition “Framed: Step into Art” from the Minnesota Children’s Museum in next summer when Corning will be filled with families visiting from out of town.

I traveled thousands of miles and met hundreds of people in the past two months, all passionate about their work and committed to making their organizations relevant and sustainable. When funding is hard to find and space is limited by a construction project museums may choose to put a well-attended program on hiatus. The Kids Rockwell Art Lab is an excellent example of how engaging community, stretching resources, and applying creativity can help a museum reach a new level of success.

My journeys this fall have been just as valuable as the destinations. Thank you for making me feel welcome at every place I have landed. I will be at the MuseumNext “Designing the Future of Museums” conference this week and will report back soon about lessons learned. We have two more workshops, and two more Meet-Ups ahead of us in November. I hope to see you along the way in either Utica or on Long Island!

Wishing everyone safe travels,

Erika Sanger
Executive Director

The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. We provide advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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