Coyote Point Museum rebels against mothballs

Three years after nearly closing its doors because of a 30 percent drop in attendance, the Coyote Point Museum is now seeing more visitors and more revenue, and it’s looking forward to the future.

In 2006, visits to the environmental museum in Coyote Point Park plummeted to 78,000 per year from its peak of 110,000 in 2000, said Abi Karlin-Resnick, the museum’s director of advancement.

One significant factor that contributed to the decrease, she said, was that the museum’s only exhibit — a text-based collection explaining different California habitats — had not changed in 20 years.

“Because it was permanently nailed to the floor, it made it hard to keep the exhibit fresh,” Karlin-Resnick said. “There weren’t new things in place bringing people back.”

Linda Lanier, then a volunteer, decided she wasn’t going to sit and watch a possible closure happen. Now the board president, Lanier helped organize a save the museum campaign and raised more than $500,000 in just 30 days.

The money was donated with the stipulation that the museum stay open, Lanier said. One of the first orders of business was a reorganization of the board of trustees and the hiring of a new executive director.

The new executive director, Rachel Meyer, was hired in 2007. She came to the museum with experience at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Palo Alto Children’s Museum.

Meyer recently was given an award by the Association of Science-Technology Centers called the Leading Edge Award for Experienced Leadership in the Field. The organization highlighted that under Meyer’s leadership, attendance at the museum was up and membership increased by 10 percent. Additionally, the museum has had balanced operating budgets for the past two fiscal years, after seven years of significant deficits.

To pull the floundering museum out of trouble, Meyer introduced interactive exhibits, rather than just the one permanent display where visitors could read about environmental change. In addition to science-based exhibits, the museum also houses live animals — including an African hedgehog and a California newt — that can be viewed up close, along with 1.3 acres of botanical gardens.

Meyer also started developing exhibits with children in mind.

For many years, the museum’s focus had been on adults and climate change. But, she said, children can grasp such grand concepts better than you might think. The newest exhibit, called “Tinkering,” allows for hands-on interaction with the mechanical processes in our world, such as a sewing machine.

Today, more than 80,000 people visit the museum each year, Karlin-Resnick said. But that’s only the beginning.

The museum is currently in the planning stages of renovation to use the environment around it, Meyer said.

“Environmental education is still our basis,” she said. “It’s all here — the wind, rain, light and the Bay — and we should be using it.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

 

Exploring nature

Coyote Point Museum offers interactive exhibits for both adults and children.

110,000: Visitors in 2000

78,000: Visitors in 2006

80,000: Visitors in 2009

55: Years since museum first opened as the San Mateo County Junior Museum

65: Native, nonreleasable animals

1.3: Acres of primarily native gardens

$7: Adult admission

$5: Admission for seniors and teenage students

$3: Admission for children 2-12

$0: Admission or teachers

Source: Coyote Point Museum

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