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Marbles museum rolls to popular, financial success

Posted July 29, 2008
Updated July 30, 2008

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— Ten months after the Exploris museum merged with PlaySpace, a children's activity center, the combined Marbles Kids Museum has won over critics by overhauling its focus, exhibits and bottom line.

Exploris obtained more than $50 million in taxpayer support over seven years, but its global focus failed to capture the imagination of visitors.

"Whenever we came to Exploris, it was always the same, at least for us, which wasn't very much. So, we didn't come very much," said Suzy Lamb, who now brings her sons to Marbles more frequently.

"It's a lot more dynamic. There's a lot more, not only play, but play where you learn something," Lamb added. "They always seem to have a new exhibit."

Marbles President Sally Edwards said the downtown Raleigh museum adopted a hands-on philosophy for its operations and exhibits. The approach is expected to attract almost 250,000 visitors by the time its first anniversary rolls around in late September – more than triple the annual attendance at Exploris.

"Children and families want to do – they want to play, they want to discover, they're very curious – and those are all the things we're very committed do," Edwards said. "We're evolving, and we really want the community to feel that this is their museum."

Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley was a frequent critic of Exploris, which he called "a failed experiment," but he supports the Marbles' approach.

"I consider Marbles to be an asset to the community," Gurley said.

Wake County continues to provide $1.75 million per year to the museum, an appropriation that Gurley and other commissioners would like to phase out.

Edwards already has cut admission prices to $5 a person and recruited corporate sponsors to erase nearly $6 million in debt, and she said she hopes to maintain the county's financial support while Marbles stabilizes its budget.

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  • carolinakhaki Jul 30, 2008

    I took my 9 year old niece to Marbles, and she had a good time; however, I was a little disappointed at the lack of structure and the lack of supplies. There are several neat exhibits that could benefit from having a proctor available to run things (start videos, encourage the kids how to interact with each other, etc.) instead of having kids stand around too shy to touch anything or talk to each other. I was also really disappointed when supplies were missing - no scissors, no glue, markers that don't work, etc.

    Great idea with extremely high potential - but there's a serious lack of attention to the small details that could really make this place fantastic.

  • CLR Jul 30, 2008

    My sister and I took her 9 yr old daughter there. We were disapointed. We wonder why it has 'museum' in the name. It's a play place. The activity area's were seriously lacking supplies, so where is all that money going?

  • lolly Jul 30, 2008

    "Exploris obtained more than $50 million in taxpayer support over seven years, but its global focus failed to capture the imagination of visitors"

    $50 million - Sighhhhhhhhh OPM - Other People's Money. The City of Raleigh has a severe opium addiction.

  • howdiditgettothis Jul 30, 2008

    We have been to both places before and after the merger.
    (a weekday morning)

    Both times there were WAY too many children/school groups allowed in for any type of meaningful learning experience, in my opinion.

    There were soooooo many children at each and every "station" inside that it was like a pushing/shoving contest. The noise level was also very high.

    It took more time for us to drive there, find parking and get inside Marbles than it did for the time we actually spent "exploring" inside.

    The cost of admission does not include parking.

    A morning trip there cost us $20-ish dollars (not including gas down there and back)......90 minute travel time for less than 90 minutes of "playtime"

    While I think Marbles WOULD (in theory) be a great place for children to visit, the overcrowding, cost of admission and parking, and inconvenient location prohibit our family from making another trip to it.

  • Fun Jul 29, 2008

    Landscaper paying down/off the 6 million debit with corporate sponsor isnt a bad thing. The whole thing is a boondoggle. 50 million of taxpayers money is big bucks plus the $1,750,00 a year kicked in for operations. Gurley man is trying to put a pretty face on his pig, so he can get re-elected. 50 million will build several schools! Or how about VOUCHERS for everyone!

  • NCSULandscaper Jul 29, 2008

    oopppss i guess i need to improve reading skills, i see 250,000 visitors, not children my mistake

  • NCSULandscaper Jul 29, 2008

    plus, they charge $5 per person, that includes everyone not just the children, so your figures would still be low

  • NCSULandscaper Jul 29, 2008

    Ok landscaper..you stay the gullable...Its running backwards $500,000 and that with Wake County ponying up $1,750,000 a year. Plus the 50 million bucks...you cut grass right? Who subsidizes you? Corporate sponsor right? -Fun

    So if they are erasing their debt according to the article how can that be a bad thing? I guess it is a bad thing in Wake county, might as well shut the place down now and send the kids to the gangs.

  • raleigh mom 07 Jul 29, 2008

    "Marbles President Sally Edwards said the downtown Raleigh museum adopted a hands-on philosophy for its operations and exhibits"
    Sally Edwards seems to have forgotten that the whole basis behind PLAYSPACE was hands-on play - this isn't new, it's just been taken over by a museum that was failing its visitors and its community, and I'm not talking about PLAYSPACE!

  • shirleyr1 Jul 29, 2008

    Maybe this landscaper could put some of out wake county kids to work and teach them the value of earning a daily wage. We may go for the cheapest labor we can find to do these jobs but are we paying for the consequences in the long run. These kids would complain and moan about the work ( as mine did) but you know 20 years down the line their work ethics look much better than those hanging out.

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