Historically, museums have been defined as buildings where objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited. But, many museums have evolved into education centers that actively engage with surrounding communities—including those that are underserved—to provide hands-on educational experiences and cultural enrichment that would not otherwise be available. Many museums partner with a broad array of stakeholders, including federal and state agencies, colleges and universities, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) advocates, foundations, and corporations to deliver their services.
To maintain operations, museums depend on funding from entrance fees; donations; and federal, state, and private grants. While larger museums tend to engage in concerted fundraising efforts, smaller institutions often struggle to raise financial resources. The increasing need to grow their financial capacity has led many museums to seek funding opportunities outside of their traditional fundraising sources. A number of museums have been able to enhance their funding and their community impact by leveraging the CDFI Fund’s New Market Tax Credits Program (NMTC Program).
The Children’s Museum of Cleveland (OH) was able to reopen in November 2017, after an almost two-year closure and an NMTC Program investment of more than $8 million provided by Cleveland Development Advisors. JP Morgan Chase Bank served as the NMTC investor. The museum was established to provide outreach education programs and activities to elementary school classrooms. Since its initial opening in 1981, the museum has evolved from providing outreach programs to being a premier cultural and educational resource completely dedicated to early childhood development in the Cleveland area. Like many other museums seeking to enrich the lives of the underserved, this museum has partnered with Museums for All, an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), administered by the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), to facilitate educational museum visits for low-income community members. Families that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the food stamps program) and active military families can receive a discounted admission rate. In addition, the museum has partnered with the Monarch Center for Autism’s Welcoming Spaces Program to provide sensory friendly rooms and autism resources.
Museum of Flight in Tukwila, Washington is one of the largest independent, non-profit air and space museums in the world. Their Boeing Academy for STEM learning provides onsite and outreach programs for students in preparation for college and careers in aviation and engineering. The National Development Council (NDC) provided an NMTC investment of $12.2 million that was critical in building the museum’s 15,000 square-foot Charles Simonyl Space Gallery. This addition is used for education and exhibits. This is the first phase of a commercial aircraft gallery and an aviation high school.
The South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium is located in Bradenton, Florida, a city with an 18 percent unemployment rate. The museum has developed education programs based on Florida Standards for STEM and with input from local public and private school educators. This is in addition to professional development training for teachers, undergraduate coursework for university students, and internship programs. The museum’s newest venture is the construction of the North Education Complex, a 23,000 square-foot addition with classroom and exhibit space specifically designed to break down barriers to STEM education in nearby disadvantaged neighborhoods and to expand the facility’s capability to reach more low-income students. The Florida Community Loan Fund provided $12 million in NMTC Program investments to support this project.
The Witte Museum of San Antonio, Texas focuses on the regional history and art of South Texas as well as natural history and science. The museum holds educational summer camps for children ages 6-12 to provide hands-on learning activities and experiences. One camp, “Dino Robotics,” provides the experience of creating an animatronic dinosaur. NDC provided an $8 million NMTC allocation and JP Morgan Chase Bank provided an additional $3 million NMTC allocation (JP Morgan Chase Bank also served as the NMTC investor) to build the museum’s B. Naylor Morton Research and Collections Center, which provides visible storage for more than 300,000 artifacts and education space for scholars, archivists and children.
Since the inception of the NMTC Program, there has been $861.5 million in NMTC investments in museums across the country. Community Development Entities (CDEs) have begun serving as important partners with these museums to ensure that students and educators in underserved communities have exposure and access to these critical education resources.
Gail Thomas is a Communications Specialist with the CDFI Fund