This message was written by our Executive Director in January 2012 - we've left it here because it provides a quick summary of where we have been and where we are heading!
A Look Back and A Look Forward
An Update from Executive Director, Donna Marie Bertrand
In February, we’ll celebrate the 32nd Birthday of the Museum. While our actual “birth date” can be selected from a number of options – the day we opened in Pioneer Square, or the date of incorporation, or maybe the day the founders came together with this grand idea – a 32-year history in our community is a proud thing to celebrate.
The Museum moved from its originating location in Pioneer Square to the Seattle Center campus over 26 years ago, at the request of the Seattle Mayor. After a decade of small growth spurts on the ground floor of the Center House, in 1995, friends of the Museum decided it was time for a major capital campaign and expansion. The current configuration was designed, funding secured, built and then celebrated by many dedicated organizations, individuals and excited children.
Over the next 15 years, children would play, laugh, learn, climb, walk, run, jump, pull, open, close, move, test, paint, touch, make and mold within the exhibit space. In those same years, Executive Directors and their staffs would dedicate themselves to the Museum, board members who cared deeply about the early education of children and a strong partnership with the Seattle Center and community supporters would help keep the Museum alive. As repeat members joined one-time visitors from literally around the world – the Museum served over 3.5 million visitors between 1995 and 2011.
By September of 2010, the well-loved exhibits were showing their age and the Museum’s lease agreement with the Seattle Center reached its expiration date. The original lease agreement had the best of intentions but had not proven realistic. The Museum had accumulated debt and a simple renewal of the lease was not a viable option.
As Executive Director and with the blessing of the Board, I began working closely with the Seattle Center in a process to create a sustainable lease that would support the mission of both non-profits. Realistically speaking, until the lease could be solidified, any significant facility and exhibit upgrades were put on hold until the Museum’s future at the Center House location could be secured. Funds were instead focused on improvements to educational and family programming; and partnership with other like-minded community organizations.
On December 1, 2011 the parameters of the new lease, were presented to the Seattle City Council’s Parks and Seattle Center Committee. Robert Nellams, Director of Seattle Center; Tom Israel, CFO for Seattle Center and I, the Museum’s Executive Director, gave a presentation regarding the intention of the new 10-year lease, with two 5-year options. As a resident at the Seattle Center (a park inside the City of Seattle), our lease is part of a legislative package and requires a final vote of approval from the Seattle City Council and a signature from the Mayor.
Integral to the new lease agreement was an acknowledgement of the Museum’s past debt as well as a formal recognition of our Public Service Benefits. On December 19, 2011 the City of Seattle’s full City Council unanimously voted to adopt the legislation.
As I reflect on the last three years - the challenging economy, the uncertainty of our lease and the daily reality of our cash restraint, I’m amazed at what was accomplished. Through diligent partnerships, very strategic educational programming, careful use of limited cash and personnel resources – the results for the children of our community are definable and to be celebrated.
Now as I look ahead, I’m excited. With the lease solidified, the Museum staff and Board can turn their attention to needed improvements to the facilities and operational infrastructure. We will be asking our friends to join us in the adventure. We hope that you can see, if we have been able to do this much, with this little – with your support we can make a stronger impact in the lives of the children and families we support.
Donna Marie Bertrand