Expanding a Museum’s Role in Advancing STEM Education
Imagine a museum campus that ignites and inspires the next generation of critical thinkers, problem solvers and innovators – a place where young engineers are nurtured, where citizen scientists are activated and where learners of all ages are catalyzed to take action. Imagine a world-leading “crucible” – a space where complex conversations and thorny problems are tackled by collaborations between industry, community and academics – inspiring action and igniting passions in young people.
Imagine all this on the Poughkeepsie Waterfront.
Starting from a Need for Museum Expansion
Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum (MHCM) attendance has grown significantly from ~20,000 visitors per year in 2012 to a current 80,000 visitors per year. As the only children’s museum between NYC and Albany, MHCM’s core audience comes from all eleven counties along the Hudson River and towns into western Connecticut. In 2017, MHCM welcomed visitors from 46 states and 9 countries. Families coming from outside Dutchess County spend $12 while in the county for every dollar spent at MHCM, generating an estimated $5.5M in local revenue in 2017 alone (2017 MHCM visitor survey).
Attendance at MHCM now far exceeds industry benchmarks for interactive children’s museums in terms of expected visitors per square foot. Nationally, small interactive children’s museums expect between 9 and 10 visitors per sq. ft. of exhibit space; MHCM currently welcomes 11.5 visitors per sq. ft. of exhibit space.
After five years of measured and steady growth, MHCM is looking to expand.
But, rather than simply expanding the existing space and “doing more Children’s Museum,” MHCM sees an opportunity to significantly expand our offerings to encourage families to stay with us longer as their children grow up. (There is a current and unfortunate reality that families “age out” of MHCM when their children turn 6 to 7 years of age.)
An Unprecedented Opportunity
MHCM was recently approved to assume ownership of a piece of property known as Upper Landing, which is adjacent to our current property on the Poughkeepsie Waterfront and includes two historically significant but vacant buildings. That this property is being made available to us – at this very time – creates a rare and exciting opportunity for MHCM as we consider our expansion possibilities. Together with the two buildings on our own site, we have the opportunity to develop a whole new museum campus to benefit our region.
We are now actively exploring how the buildings can be restored and re-purposed. Specifically, we are evaluating how each of the four buildings that exist across the two neighboring properties might be developed into separate and distinct “museums” that would provide families with a selection and progression of age-appropriate experiences designed to grow with their children and families.
A Concept Emerges: “The Museums at Upper Landing”
MHCM continues to convene community stakeholder groups to discuss how we can best connect our need to expand our physical space with a growing regional need to advance STEM education. Early visioning sessions have inspired us to “think big” with respect to the possibilities and as a result we are developing an innovative concept to create a vibrant new museum campus on the Poughkeepsie Waterfront that will feature four separate small museums nestled into a beautiful public park on the shores of the Hudson River. Each museum will feature its own unique content and will be developed for a particular audience, but all will be grounded in some aspect of science, technology, engineering and math education.
Overview of Proposed Museums and Park
Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum. The Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum will move next door to Hoffman House in Upper Landing Park. Hoffman House is one of Poughkeepsie’s oldest and most historic buildings with a section of it dating back to 1717. Through this exciting adaptive reuse project, its exterior porch will be restored for accessibility, and the interior of the building will be transformed into a vibrant and inviting interactive museum space for young children and their families. The new Children’s Museum will offer three floors of interactive exhibit space, a classroom, gift shop, and a multi-level enclosed outdoor exhibit space.
Target Audience: families with children ages 0-5.
Mid-Hudson Science Center. MHCM’s current building at 75 N. Water Street in Poughkeepsie will be transformed into a new interactive science center. The Science Center will combine interactive experiences anchored in the exploration of natural phenomena, with the educational philosophy of the constructivist science centers, which feature open-ended, self-directed, inquiry-based experiences with prolonged engagement as outcomes. Enhancements to the building will include a new three-story addition with rooftop access to a new outdoor exhibit space. The open floor plan offered by the expanded building provides opportunity to create dynamic galleries, allowing for a wide range of hands-on experiences and discovery across a range of science topics.
Target Audiences: families with children ages 5-12; elementary school groups.
The Crucible. Reynolds Building in Upper Landing will be transformed into a vibrant STEM learning space for teens through adults, offering visitors the opportunity to explore careers and emerging issues in science, technology, engineering and math through exhibitions and programs created by our local community. Loosely modeled after the MAH (Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, CA), where different constituents from within the community co-create exhibitions and programs about complex topics and/or controversial issues, The Crucible will serve as an innovative convening space where new partnerships and connections are formed to advance engagement in science through academia, industry, research, and the community at large. Content will be produced locally and will reflect multiple viewpoints and interpretations of emerging science and advances in technology and its intersection with social and/or ethical considerations.
Target Audiences: middle and high school aged youth, college students, adults, seniors.
Waterfront Food Works. The existing pavilion of MHCM will become an interactive learning dedicated to food – its production, consumption, artistry, technologies, careers and social issues. We look to install semi-permanent 4-season enclosures (transparent overhead rolling doors) to create a functional and innovative programming space. The pavilion will be enhanced with the installation of a commercial kitchen facility to support a new waterfront café, instructional kitchen, and expanded catering and banquet service. This space will feature exhibits on all aspects of food, local agriculture, nutrition and food-related STEM careers. This space will also host an expanded year-round farmers market.
Target Audiences: families with children ages 4+ ; seniors; students; and community partners
Upper Landing Park. MHCM seeks to take over daily operations of management of Upper Landing Park in 2019, ensuring access to the grounds, amenities and the Walkway’s elevator. The Park will continue to be made available for both private and public events, with management by MHCM. With interpretive signage already in place on science topics including water power, transportation, bridge engineering and glass eel migration, it is almost as if this Park was destined to be a gateway to memorable STEM experiences, such as those proposed by the creation of this Museum Campus.
Target audience: general public.