Spotlight On: Sarah Cole, President & CEO, Glazer Children’s Museum

Spotlight On: Sarah Cole, President & CEO, Glazer Children’s Museum

2022-07-13T10:11:56-04:00April 29th, 2022|Spotlight On, Tampa Bay, Tourism|

Sarah Cole2 min read April 2022 In an interview with Invest:, Sarah Cole, president and CEO of Glazer Children’s Museum, talked about the importance of a museum within the economy of an area as well as the responsibility that museums have to be resources and to be accessible to the general public. Cole also discussed the museum’s efforts on DEI, virtual programming, affordability and catering to neurodivergent individuals. 

Why is it so important to support the city’s cultural and historical assets? 

People often forget about the cultural arts as the assets they are. They are a huge economic driver and that is not always well understood. We drive tourism and visitation to various parts of the city as our guests make a day of it, using different amenities during their stay. We employ a lot of people and have remarkable teams. When you think of an amazing city, often people reference the museums and theaters and things like that. People haven’t always thought of Tampa as a museum town but we really have world-class institutions here and that is part of what makes it a livable city for people. Having exposure to culture and diverse ideas and activities that we don’t typically see every day enhances the quality of life. 

What transformations have you seen in the sector after almost 20 years? 

One of the largest transformative moments I’ve seen in the museum sector has been a deep focus on DEI work and really looking at ways museums have been complicit in racism, classism and ableism. Museums have evolved from a place of token efforts at inclusion to digging deep and becoming a truly welcoming and accessible places for everyone. There are many barriers to making use of museums. For instance: if there aren’t people who look like you present, if there are language barriers or if transportation to the building is limited. Really creating systemic changes is something we hadn’t seen many museums tackling until recently but that is changing as we open up to the world, put our egos aside and share authority with others.

What has been the impact of your social responsibility programs?

We have had a social responsibility fund for many years to provide financial access, which in the last several years has been a significant challenge for a lot of families. We provide free tickets to many of our partner agencies, such as parks and recreational organizations, Boys and Girls Club and others. An important program we joined at the end of 2019 is Museums For All, a national program that allows anyone who uses EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards to present them for significant discounts, often paying $3 or less for their tickets. In Tampa Bay, there are over a dozen museums participating in Museums for All.

Since we opened in our downtown location, ability access has been part of the fabric of our work, especially around autism and neurodivergent access. It started with our monthly Sunshine Sunday program, an exclusive time where families who have children with disabilities can come in and louder sounds will be mitigated, therapy dogs are around and people who are able to talk about resources are present. 

Our Camp Imagination program also continues to grow and expand. We have nine weeks of summer camp, plus several weeks of camp during school breaks. Three weeks in summer are specifically autism inclusive. During that time, we have therapists, behavioral therapists, speech and language pathologists on staff as well as fully supported and smaller classes. We’ve seen huge benefits from those elements, with families saying that their children are having successful camp experiences.  Financially, we’ve made it a goal that 10% of our campers will be able to attend on full scholarship.   

How has your virtual programming been working out? 

Our virtual programming started very quickly and had to evolve. I give kudos to my staff who were able to create the virtual platform we needed in one day. It was very homegrown in the beginning and our team looked at providing activities that could be done at home. When we closed the building, it allowed for all of our staff to contribute to the mission and produce content and be useful in different ways. We grew from informational fun videos into what we are calling GCM@Home. We have hundreds of modules online and have users across the globe. That evolved into what we are calling GCM Cl@ssroom, virtual field trips and lesson plans that a class can do if they can’t physically come to the museum. We were able to offer that free to all the Title 1 schools in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and received donations and grants to cover the production of new things. They have continued to be part of our entire offering. 

What is your near-term outlook for the museum? 

We have always known that the pandemic would settle, but rather than returning to normal we are emerging into a new space. We’ve learned a lot in the last two years and there is no going back. Continuing to be seen as a vital resource to the community is how we want to go forward. Something that has come out of the pandemic is the power of play and why it is so important. People were previously focused on skill-building and less tuned in to the value of play. When everything went online that play aspect was lost and the entire community realized how important it is. That has pushed us into a place where we can talk about play in an unapologetic way.   

Now we are working on a new strategic plan and looking at growth opportunities. The future is boundless for us right now, and to be in a space of creativity rather than crisis management is wonderful. We definitely found our silver lining.

What are some of the immediate priorities for the museum? 

We are an institution that relies on fundraising for half of our operating budget so that is always going to be a priority. DEI is becoming a big focus for us internally to make sure everyone here feels welcomed and supported and then looking to turn that outward to our guests. We have some new opportunities and exhibits coming along and a lot of ideas bubbling but my responsibility with that is pacing and patience. 

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