Rice Museum of Rocks & Minerals looks to expand online resources
Two months ago, when the Rice Museum of Rocks & Minerals in Hillsboro closed due to the coronavirus, museum director Garret Romaine didn't think the impact would be as dramatic as it has been.
"We had no idea that we would be closed this long," Romaine said. "I was at the museum around our normal opening time soon after we closed our doors thinking to myself, 'Two weeks. We can manage this.'"
The museum, which houses one of the region's most extensive collections of rocks, minerals, fossils, meteorites, gemstones and stone art, has experienced a 34% reduction in its annual budget as two months' worth of ticket sales, education program fees, gift shops sales and donations have simply not materialized.
The reduction in revenue forced Romaine to lay off nearly all of the museum's previous 16 staff — a difficult decision that's become familiar for nonprofits and businesses across the country.
Romaine says the museum is preparing to reopen eventually by providing personal protective equipment to staff and volunteers and establishing social distancing and sanitizing measures. He knows visits to the museum and its revenue won't be the same when it does reopen, which is part of why the museum has been coming up with new ways to engage with people online.
"Museums are trying to stay relevant," Romaine said, referring to efforts by other museums in the region, such as the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Portland Art Museum, that have closed and are trying to increase their online presence.
As an industry, museums are losing $33 million per day due to closures, according to estimates from the American Alliance of Museums. Thirty percent of museums may never reopen, and those that do will be changed institutions and are at risk of closing within two years, AAM says.
"The Rice Museum does not want to become one of these statistics," Romaine said.
Rice Museum staff have created an "At Home Resources" tab on its website that features a new collection of earth science videos and activities such as word puzzles for all ages called 'What on Earth?'
People can also take a virtual tour of the museum exhibits on its website.
Romaine said the museum is also trying to come up with ways to engage with students doing remote learning at home to access the museum's educational resources by expanding its online materials and creating portable earth science exhibits.
Visits from local schools were one of the museum's major sources of revenue and activity before the pandemic, with more than 10,000 students visiting the museum each year.
"For the museum to survive and thrive in the future, we plan to grow educational offerings, update exhibitions and enhance outside spaces," Romaine said.
The museum was able to hire back a few staff members after receiving funding from the Paycheck Protection Program from the U.S. Small Business Administration, but Romaine said the museum will need additional support in order to adapt to recent social changes and plan to reopen.
It has created a COVID-19 Relief Fund and is asking for support from the community.
"It's going to be tight and we don't have a ton of reserves," Romaine said. "If we can get through the summer, which I'm pretty sure we can, I think once the school year starts back up and we figure out what that looks like, I think we can weather through this."
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