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Welcome: Providing Greater Community Access In Charlotte

March 31, 2016

Editor’s Note: This blog is part of a series highlighting the Museums or All program, a cooperative initiative between IMLS and the Association of Children’s Museums to offer a signature access program that encourages families of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits. Any museum can participate. To register your institution, click here!

By Catherine Wilson Horne

Discovery Place, Inc.

For many Charlotte residents, a trip to Discovery Place has long been a family tradition and an occasion for shared learning and inspiration. But for many years, we have recognized that there are many families in our community who do not have the opportunity to visit our museums to engage and learn together.

This year, Discovery Place changed that paradigm as it launched Welcome, a community access program that is part of the Association of Children's Museums’ (ACM) Museums for All initiative.  When we were presented with the concept of providing reduced admission for families on public assistance, we believed that this would be an easy and effective way of opening our doors to those who need our services most. After meeting with local social and community service organizations to gather input, we knew that the program would work and could have tremendous impact.

(Photo Courtesy of Discovery Place Inc.: Discovery Place offers visitors the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a fun, interactive and informal setting.)

Beginning December 15, 2014, recipients of EBT cards or holders of WIC vouchers were invited to experience any museum in the Discovery Place family for $1 per person. Guests are welcome any day of the week, any time of the year, and may visit as often as they like. Discovery Place operates four museum locations, and Welcome visitors may visit any or all of them.

Working in partnership with local community service organizations, we spread the word with flyers and posters. Caseworkers learned about the program and shared it with their clients. Our staff distributed information at schools, apartment complexes and community centers. Word spread quickly, and soon our phones began to ring. Callers were tentative. They had heard about the program but wanted to confirm that it was true. Was it a special, one-day promotion? When would it end?

(Photo Courtesy of Discovery Place Inc.: Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, Discovery Place offers a family-friendly experience surrounded by the excitement of a bustling urban community.)

It has now been 15 months since we launched Welcome. During this time, we have welcomed more than 48,000 family visitors to our museums. On any given day, as much as 10% of the attendance may participate through Welcome. The results have been rewarding in so many ways – touching more families, inspiring “wonder” moments with new visitors, and learning more about our community. One of the best parts is seeing how proud our staff is to share our museums and their passion for learning with so many new learners. Indeed, it has been a welcome and wonderful process for all.

Catherine Wilson Horne is president & CEO of Discovery Place, Inc., which operates Discovery Place and Charlotte Nature Museum and Discovery Place KIDS.