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Watch now: Decatur to authorize $200,000 subsidy for Children's Museum of Illinois

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Children's Museum of Illinois

The Children's Museum of Illinois in Decatur is pictured.

DECATUR — The Decatur-based Children's Museum of Illinois is set to receive a $200,000 subsidy from the city, offering the institution a lifeline as it attempts to find its footing following the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Decatur City Council will consider an ordinance Tuesday authorizing the use of a portion of the city's American Rescue Plan allocation for the museum. 

Most of the nearly $17 million in ARP funds received by the city have been allocated toward major infrastructure and neighborhood revitalization initiatives. 

But, as early as June, city officials identified the museum as a possible candidate for federal stimulus funds. Lee Enterprises in March documented the challenges facing children's museums during COVID-19, as they often fell through the cracks when it came to aid programs.

Assistant City Manager Jon Kindseth said the ordinance was "a recognition by the city that, essentially, if we don't step in and give them some funding, then who's going to?"

"We recognize that the Children's Museum is an important entity for the city of Decatur and for the local economy," Kindseth said. "It is one of the things that draws people here as well as keeps people here. And so the city did not want to see that facility closed because they have no other financial backing."

It's been a challenging 18 months for the museum, which shuttered in mid-March 2020 and reopened in April 2021. But even after opening its doors, attendance has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, said museum president and CEO Abby Koester. 

"People are still hesitant about being out in public, especially with their children," Koester said. "We do have a bunch of restrictions, which some people don't necessarily want to follow, so that kind of limits our numbers too. So we're still in the recovery phase. We're not back to normal like many other industries and other businesses in town."

Abby Koester

Abby Koester, Children's Museum of Illinois President and CEO

Koester said the museum is a unique entity. It's a nonprofit but typically relies on admissions and memberships for about 60% of its revenue. This obviously took a hit in 2020, with Koester estimating the total revenue loss at about $350,000. The museum's budget is typically just under $500,000, she said. 

The museum received $55,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and a $45,000 Business Interruption Grant from the state. Koester said they have applied for other grants and have also received help from donors. 

Koester said the city funds "will help us make sure that we're around for another 30-plus years."

"These funds will really put us on the right track to recovery so that we are in a good place when we finally can recover and we're not still trying to tread water and try to catch our breaths," she said. 

Per the agreement with the city, the museum had to submit a plan for long-term financial sustainability and will have to document how the funds are spent.

The interactive museum is geared toward children ages 2 to 10. It opened in 1990. It moved to its current 20,000-square-foot building in Scovill Park in 1995. 


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