Children’s museums facing challenges with COVID-19 relief, wants Gov. Pritzker to make changes

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NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) – A number of circumstances has made securing financial assistance difficult for local children’s museums, and leaders with these organization are calling on Illinois officials to make changes.

For nearly a year, the doors at Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum and Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal have been closed to the general public. This is something that is not expected to change until Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

“We don’t know how long that’s going to last. That could be another six months, it could be three months,” said Beth Whisman, Director of Children’s Discovery Museum.

Leadership said similar businesses or organizations that serve children have not been put under the same guidance.

“Large numbers of organizations that serve children in a very tactile way are open to the public that are in many ways very similar to children’s museums, but because we fall into the category of museums, we’ve been abiding by that restriction,” said Rebecca Shulman, Director of Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum.

Whisman explained the restrictions are having a major impact on museum finances. In just the past year, she said the Children’s Discovery Museum has lost approximately $500,000 from ticket sales and memberships alone.

“Peoria and Normal are very lucky that we are part of a park district and the town, and we will survive this, but the small children’s museums throughout the state and the big ones frankly in Chicago are all going to struggle,” she said.

Applying for COVID relief has also posed its challenges. Shulman said because Peoria PlayHouse is not a private organization, it did not qualify for PPP loans. Aid known as Shuttered Venue Grants were designed to help, but that hasn’t quite been the case.

“Because that grant includes a requirement for auditorium seats essentially, seats that are bolted to the floor, most museums are not able to apply for that either,” Shulman said.

With children’s museums continuously falling through the cracks, Whisman is calling on Gov. JB Pritzker to re-assess how they are allowed to reopen,

“What we’re asking the governor to do is to change the rules, not to make any special accommodations, but to make it fair. Right now it’s unfair and I don’t think it’s meant to be, but that’s how it’s playing out,” Whisman said.

Both directors say children’s museums pride themselves on cleanliness and they do believe that they can safely reopen.

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