Local News

Marbles museum rolls to popular, financial success

Posted July 29, 2008 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2008 9:36 a.m. EDT

— 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.