Getting discovered
Durango Discovery Museum enjoys banner first quarter

by Karin L. Becker

No doubt about it, the Durango Discovery Museum has been discovered. Since opening in its new space in March, membership has doubled, and according to Operations Manager Dawn Jose, more members are added each day.

With three months under its belt in the new digs, the Discovery Museum is experiencing the payoffs of the big move. Coming off the shoulder season where lulls are expected, the museum is anticipating a strong summer.

“We budgeted for 600 memberships and we already have 700 in the first three months,” boasts Executive Director Claire Bradshaw.

It is hoped that this surplus will have a ripple effect on the local economy. An economic impact study conducted before the museum moved showed that tourists would likely stay an extra day in Durango to attend the Discovery Museum. Extending their stay even one night translates into a large economic bearing, to the tune of $3 million, once you tally up hotels, restaurants, admission fee and souvenirs.

Although much of the museum’s advertising has been word of mouth, it recently received a grant from Google and be placed at the top of the “things to do in Durango” list. This as well as other advertising strategies are working to transform the museum from a place where locals drop by on a rainy afternoon into a destination attraction. For locals, the message is that this is a place to come, explore and relax. For tourists, it is an anchor for family vacation plans.

“We are trying to stay accessible and entice those who think Durango’s too far,” Bradshaw states.

Since the Discovery Museum is not subsidized by any city, county or state funds, it relies on those admission fees to pay the bills. Since moving to the new facility, the costs have increased due to higher electric bills and more sophisticated exhibits. Additionally, three new part-time employees were added to the payroll: two front desk clerks and an educational manager.

The walk-up price for a family of four is $38, but Bradshaw points out that this is less than the cost of similar Durango attractions like a train ride or skiing. Furthermore, families can buy memberships for $75 for the year. As a member of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, Durango Discovery Museum membership allows entrance at 350 other museums, nationally and internationally, for free. Members also receive discounts and preferred enrollment in all of the museum’s educational programs. If visitors find the admission fee too expensive, the museum is willing to negotiate the fare. “We don’t want to turn anyone away,” Bradshaw says. To offset the fees, sometimes a two-for-one coupon may be issued.

In addition, the museum is launching “Pay-What-You-Wish Day” the first Sunday of each month. Although the Museum may lose revenue on those Sundays, it is regarded as a regional appreciation day and is a common practice among museums. If a family visits the museum on a free day and has an enjoyable experience, then they are more likely to return and invite their friends. The key is to get people inside the doors so they can see the all-ages interactive exhibits for themselves. Young kids may find the museum a fun place to explore, but upon subsequent visits, they begin to ask questions about the exhibits. “A shift in understanding occurs and the museum becomes a place to grow mentally” Bradshaw says.

To capitalize on its prime river real estate, the Museum plans to add a food vendor, likely in an Airstream trailer, to encourage family picnicking. Wine and beer is slated to be sold as well as extending outdoor science programs on the plaza. •



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