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Madison Children’s Museum earns high honor

Wisconsin State Journal

SAMARA KALK DERBY

Madison Children’s Museum has received what some call the “Oscar” for museums.

The museum announced Tuesday that it was awarded the 2011 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

The award, given by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is the first such award given to any Wisconsin museum. The institute chooses five U.S. museums and five U.S. libraries each year.

“We have received a lot of awards at Madison Children’s Museum and all of them are important, but this one is especially meaningful because it speaks to the heart of our mission, which is service,” said Ruth Shelly, the museum’s executive director.

The award will be presented to museum representatives next year in Washington, D.C. It comes with a $10,000 prize, which the museum will use to support its Access for Everyone program that allows anyone the opportunity to visit the museum regardless of economic, physical or other barriers.

Admission is free between 5 and 8 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month. And the museum offers reduced fees for anyone on public assistance, including unemployment, food stamps, foster care, or the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC).

“Anyone who comes to the front desk and can’t afford to pay the full price may pay $1,” said museum spokeswoman Amy Mertz.

Those on public assistance qualify for the museum’s Family Access membership, which starts at $8 and offers unlimited admission for a year.

The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries awarded for extraordinary civic, educational, economic, environmental and social contributions. Recipients must demonstrate innovative approaches to public service and community outreach.

The museum has been a presence in the city since 1980. It moved into its new building, 100 N. Hamilton St. on the Capitol Square, in August 2010.

It draws about 300 visitors on an average weekday, and between 600 and 1,000 on a weekend day, said Mertz.

More than 32,000 people out of the 284,000 who came through the museum’s doors in its first year at its new location utilized the Access for Everyone program, funded with donations, grants and awards like this one.

The nonprofit museum also provides intergenerational programs for older adults with memory loss and is working to expand learning opportunities for children with disabilities.

“Madison Children’s Museum makes a difference in people’s lives. And this wonderful national recognition confirms that,” Shelly said. “As we look forward, an award of this magnitude just spurs us on to do even bigger and better things in the community that our new building will help make possible.”

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal funding for museums and libraries. The National Medal for Museum and Library Service was created to highlight the vital role these institutions play in American society.

IMLS spokeswoman Mamie Bittner called Madison Children’s Museum a model for the rest of the country.

“They are fantastic,” she said. “This honor they have won is like the Academy Awards for museum and library services, so the community should be quite proud.”

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