Just two weeks was how long Kaleideum officials thought the museum’s two locations in Winston-Salem would be closed back in mid-March 2020 because of COVID-19.
“Nobody really knew what effect this was going to take,” said Elizabeth Dampier, Kaleideum’s executive director. “We shut down March 15 (2020).”
After a couple of weeks wrapping things up, most staff at the museum started working from home, except the animal care staff and other employees who were needed from time to time.
Vivian Coates, vice chairwoman of Kaleideum’s board of directors, said everyone was unsure how the pandemic would pan out.
“It was very challenging navigating the pandemic given all of the information that we were getting on a daily basis,” Coates said.
She said officials were cautious as they worked to keep employees safe and followed local and state government health guidelines to make sure it would be safe for everyone when the museum reopened.
Kaleideum was formed in 2016 through the merger of SciWorks and the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem. The museum operates two locations: Kaleideum North at 400 W. Hanes Mill Road and Kaleideum Downtown at 390 S. Liberty St. in Winston-Salem.
At the time of the shutdown, Kaleideum North was ready to share with the community a new traveling Lego exhibit produced by Children’s Museum of Indianapolis called “Travel Adventure.”
“That was one of the saddest parts about the pandemic,” Coates said. “We were so excited about bringing this exhibit, which brought together transportation, technology, engineering, creativity, design — all of these elements that I think children’s museums are really great at in terms of using kids’ concepts,” Coates said.
As of March 26, museums are now allowed to open at 100% capacity as North Carolina relaxes some COVID-19 restrictions.
Coates said this is “great for those families who feel comfortable going into a museum.”
Navigating a pandemic
Last spring amid the shutdown, Kaleideum created a library of “Kaleideum at Home” videos and ran a Virtual Kaleidoscope Ball before transitioning into summer camp.
Dampier said families needed an outlet for children and were interested in summer camp.
“Either they were essential workers and they needed to work, or they still wanted their kids to get out and socialize because they were spending so much time online and remote learning,” Dampier said.
On June 10, Kaleideum North opened for summer camp, which ran 11 weeks.
“We did not have any positive cases of COVID during that entire time with any of our camp staff or any of our campers,” Dampier said. “I think people were really diligent about doing the things that needed to be done to stay safe.”
During this time, museum officials were also hearing that there was a need for remote learning when school started in the fall 2020.
Once its summer camp closed out, Kaleideum became a remote learning center for students from Aug. 17, except for breaks and holidays, with a Wednesday remote learning option for families, through March 2021.
Kaleideum ended up with a three-component program. In addition to the remote learning to help students with their schooling, it offered an afternoon enrichment program and a preschool component that ended Dec. 18.
“Just like the schools, the preschools were shutting down,” Dampier said.
In late August, museum officials got permission from the state to open Kaleideum North on weekends. Since early November, Kaleideum North has been operating four days a week — Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“It was a great opportunity to utilize this facility to utilize the outdoors and to really be able to bring all of that to the families in the way that they wanted to be able to enjoy the space,” Dampier said.
Kaleideum staff and officials started discussions with its school partners about ways to support teachers.
Allison Lam, education and learning specialist for Kaleideum, said they decided on live virtual programs using a platform such as Zoom, to align their programs with the North Carolina Essential Science Standards and offer programs that would be low cost or free to schools.
She said they turned to their most popular programs.
“We set to work redeveloping our chemistry program, which the focus was on properties of matter, and then our biology program, which ties into standards on living organisms and ecosystems. Then our geology program, which touches on earth processes and Rock formations and that sort of thing,” Lam said.
She said when a program is put in a virtual setting, some of the hands-on, in-person learning is lost.
“You have to restructure and redevelop your program so that you’re bringing science to life as much as you can for kids through that virtual format,” Lam said.
Leigh Ann Woodruff, vice president of communications for Kaleideum, said Lam has been able to “take a lot of different programs and pull them into three main programs, but they’re better scaffolded for different age levels.”
Dampier said in these times everyone, not just Kaleideum officials, are thinking about how to do their work differently.
“With things like virtual education, we are able to think about that because as Allison mentioned, we can’t send a bunch of materials in the classroom anymore, and we can’t have a whole group of 20 kids holding something and touching something and feeling it anymore. So how do we think all of those things and still allow people to practice ideas and practice concepts and learn new things in a different way?”
Present and future
Kaleideum Downtown has been closed since mid-March 2020, but starting May 29 both Kaleideum locations will be open seven days a week throughout the summer. In addition, the museum will run Camp Kaleideum at both locations with day camps for ages 3 through rising first-graders at Kaleideum Downtown and day camps for rising kindergarteners through seventh-graders at Kaleideum North.
At the end of August, Kaleideum Downtown will become a second site for Salem Montessori School, a private school in need of additional space for its elementary school program. During the school year, Salem Montessori will have exclusive use of the Kaleideum Downtown premises during the week, and Kaleideum will be able to open the downtown location on the weekends.
At Kaleideum North, “Travel Adventure” is still on exhibit.
“We’re changing out Legos on a very regular basis so that families can know that the things in the museum are clean and have been taken care of with their safety in mind,” Dampier said.
Dampier said museum officials are happy about their number of visitors to the museum, saying more than 350 people attended Kaleideum North last weekend.
“So very slowly people are coming back,” Dampier said. “They are beginning to be more comfortable, I think. As vaccinations begin to become more prevalent and more people get vaccinated, I think, more people (will be) more comfortable.
Kaleideum continues to offer special events with small groups. Spring Fling at Kaleideum North will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 28.
In early April, it will offer Spring Break Camp Kaleideum at Kaleideum North for kindergarteners through fifth-graders.
Composer and pianist Eleonor Sandresky’s new music series Lunar Landscapes will come to the Kaleideum at 9 p.m. April 27.
This year, instead of its traditional Kaleidoscope Ball fundraiser, Kaleideum will present Let’s Have a Ball on May 21 and have a “party-in-a-box,” so people can support the museum wherever they may be.
Officials at Kaleideum are also looking to the future.
The museum is planning a new location on the site of the former sheriff’s office on Third Street overlooking Merschel Park in downtown Winston-Salem. The project could cost $30 million to build with $10 million in exhibit spending inside. Forsyth County is spending $30.5 million and the City of Winston-Salem is contributing $2 million that will be allocated for the redesign of Liberty Plaza. Kaleideum officials have been working to raise another $10 million for exhibits.
Dampier said Kaleideum has raised more than $9 million of its $10 million goal and that she is thankful the community continues to be generous and support Kaleideum and its new building throughout the pandemic.
She expects to be able to announce some of its lead donors for its capital campaign that will kick off later this year.
“In terms of the future, we’re excited about being able to remain a community resource and to welcome back families in a safe way when they are ready to come back,” Dampier said.
Visitors to Kaleideum North may notice that the outdoor animals have moved to new homes.
“As we prepare for our move to the new Kaleideum at Third Street and Town Run Lane, finding good homes for the outdoor animals was a priority,” Dampier said. “The COVID-19 pandemic shortened the timeline, and we moved Otto, the otter, to Animal Ed.ventures Sanctuary last May. Later that summer, we moved the deer to Western North Carolina Nature Center, and in October, we moved the barnyard animals to a local farm where they can happily live out their lives with a friend of Kaleideum.”