Champaign County Museums Network
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The Champaign County Museum Network is an organization of 11 museums, archives and nature centers working together for the benefit of all.

As members have been discussing their work during 2020, it was noted that as we prepare virtual materials due to COVID-19, we have come full circle to the reason we came together in the first place: building online collaborations with our audiences. Here’s how it started.

In 1995, the Illinois Board of Education offered “Museums in the Classroom” grants to “develop online, interactive, curriculum projects that utilize the unique resources and capabilities of museums.”

Two area museum directors, Carolyn Baxley and Cheryl Kennedy, gathered a group of local museums to apply for the grant.

A total of seven museums became the “Museums at the Crossroads Consortium,” named for the unique confluence of neighboring interstate highways.

The Consortium won the grant support and was joined by 32 schools for the installation of videoconferencing equipment and the development of interactive web pages and artifact-based lessons.

When the grant was completed, the members continued to meet monthly to plan and execute multiple creative projects, including these:

— Passport programs that encourage families to visit all of the museums.

— Collaborations with Elderhostel, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and senior living facilities to provide adult classes and programs.

— A collaboration with local businesses on The Family Fun Field Guide: Things to Do with Kids in Champaign County.

— Helping teachers to do “one stop” field trip shopping through Educator Resource Guides and Educator Open Houses.

— Public programs such as a Museum Expo at Market Place Mall and staffing interactive tents at the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival.

Over the years, there have been many changes. New museums have joined, and some, regrettably, have had to close and withdraw their memberships. A few have changed names.

But with all of this, the Network’s mission to reach out to audiences, both new and traditional, has not changed.

In May 2016, the group became the “Champaign County Museums Network” to better reflect its regional nature and collaborative focus.

A new strategic plan and membership initiative are directing the Network on expanding our audiences and collaborations and encourage best practices among museum professionals.

Just this year, the Network became an Illinois nonprofit corporation and has applied for 501c3 tax-exempt status.

Look for the release in the near future of the Network’s latest project, a series of videos featuring each institution’s interpretation of the same artifact.

Members still meet monthly, continuing the long tradition of working with area classrooms and the community as a whole to shine a spotlight on the cultural and scientific resources of the county.

Current Network members are the Anita Purves Nature Center, Champaign County Historical Archives, Champaign County History Museum, Homer Lake Interpretive Center, Krannert Art Museum, Museum of the Grand Prairie, Pollinatarium, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, Spurlock Museum and William M. Staerkel Planetarium, as well as affiliate member the Illinois Distributed Museum.

Please follow the Network on our website, champaigncountycuseums.org, and @ChampCoMuseums on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Dave Leake is the former director of William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College.

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