The respected children’s museum in downtown Lexington is moving toward its silver anniversary (it opened in 1990) with a new executive director and new lease – both at Victorian Square and on life.
Attendance is up, new exhibits have been installed, old favorites are back and the outlook for the future has never been better.
“This is the healthiest, strongest and most stable we’ve been since I’ve been on the Board,” said Tim Davis, a Lexington attorney, Board member since 2009 and the current Board president.
“Great things are happening downtown and at Victorian Square, and we’re glad to be a part of that. I feel like the Explorium is poised for exceptional growth.”
Much of that optimism derives from the museum’s new Executive Director – Lee Ellen Martin, who embodies the “something old is new again” catchphrase.
Martin re-joined the Explorium last year and this summer had the interim tag removed from her title.
A harpist with a degree in arts administration, she originally worked at the Explorium in marketing and development and as the associate director shortly out of college in 1991-95.
She followed that experience with extensive work in the non-profit field in Lexington, serving at Hospice of the Bluegrass for five years and with United Way since 2003 where she focused on fund-raising.
Along with those credentials, Martin brings another attribute to the table – two in fact: She’s the mother of Reynolds, 13, and Ellie, 10.
Both regularly help out their mother at the museum, and Ellie is the unofficial exhibit tester.
“Everything here is educational but if something doesn’t meet the fun for kids criteria, it doesn’t go in,” Martin said. “What we do complements what children learn in school and the world around them.
“It also inspires parents and children to learn together.”
That combination has captured the imagination of parents and children for nearly a quarter of a century in Central Kentucky and beyond. The Explorium is a destination for families not only in Central Kentucky but all over the state, drawing from nearly all of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
In addition, when visitors stay in Lexington, the Explorium is a bonus, which explains why the museum has attracted folks from 45 of 50 states.
Since Martin has returned, memberships are up 16% over last year and attendance – especially repeat visitors – has spiked by 25%.
This summer has been especially busy. Unlike during the school year, the Explorium is open Mondays, and Parents Night Out, which is offered year-round on Fridays, coincides in the summer with the Fountain Film series at Triangle Park.)
Since Martin rejoined the museum she has rejuvenated program offerings to more than 50 per month for toddlers through fifth-graders, including art, music, creative movement, early literacy classes, plus the S.M.A.S.H club, featuring daily science, math, art, social studies and humanities activities on a rotating basis.
Meanwhile, the Explorium offers a full slate of popular summer camps. When the school year starts, the Explorium offers programs for school groups and Field Trips To Go when the museum takes its classes on the road under the direction of Morgan Brotherton, who has a master’s degree in education.
Spring break camps and special programs on no-school days are also offered.
The Explorium also offers a puppet theater and daily Sketch Pad program, featuring a drop-in art room where children can create whatever they want.
A Halloween demonstration by the American Chemistry Society is typical of the science offerings where parents and children alike can learn how a self-carving pumpkin works. (“You have to see it to believe it,” Martin said.)
Those programs augment the core of the Explorium experience – hands-on museum exhibits. The Bubble Room and Water Table are perennial favorites, and Martin has reinstalled the climbing wall and a maze that features six configurations.
Martin also has introduced new exhibits, including the Dinosaur Dig, a Pet Hospital and the Get Fit station.
You know that Martin understands the Explorium mission when she advises parents: “Do not dress children in their Sunday best when they come to the museum,” she said.
“In fact, it’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes. There is the potential for being messy and that’s a good thing.
“That’s why children love coming here. We are an experience.”
An experience that is still going strong after all these years.
The Explorium is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, 1-5 p.m., and Monday, 1-5 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Admission is $8. Teacher, grandparents, family and family plus memberships are available. Info: 258-3253 or visit www.explorium.com.