IO Girl Scouts Homer Lake

Girl Scouts take part in bird-watching at the Homer Lake Interpretive Center, which is a member of the Champaign County Museums Network.

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The Champaign County Museums Network is excited to announce the start of this weekly column, "Inside Out," which will highlight the stories and accomplishments of museums, archives and similar institutions in our community.

Currently, the network comprises 12 institutions across Champaign County, as far as the Homer Lake Interpretive Center in the east, to the Museum of the Grand Prairie in the west and everywhere in between.

In partnership with The News-Gazette, Inside Out will feature the everyday impact of museums, from inside the archives and collections and outward into the exhibition halls and nature classrooms.

Each week, Inside Out will present new and compelling stories written by museum professionals at member institutions.

The network’s members include the Anita Purves Nature Center, Champaign County History Museum, Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library, Homer Lake Interpretive Center, Illinois Distributed Museum, Krannert Art Museum, Museum of the Grand Prairie, Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, Pollinatarium, Sousa Archives and the Center for American Music, Spurlock Museum, and William M. Staerkel Planetarium.

Museums are local and regional attractions. In 2018, more than 270,000 people visited the 12 museums in Champaign County. By comparison, more people visited a local museum than attended a Fighting Illini home football game in the same year.

Exhibits are attractive to museum patrons, and some museums have been recognized for their exhibits. For example, the Anita Purves Nature Center earned the 2018 Governor’s Hometown Award, and the Museum of the Grand Prairie received the Illinois Association of Museums Excellence in Exhibits Award.

Museums are significant educational resources for schools and similar groups. Last year, more than 1,600 groups visited a museum as part of a school field trip, tour or out-of-school program.

During a field trip, attendees would have searched for bees at the Pollinatarium on the campus of the University of Illinois or star-gazed under the dome of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College.

Museums employ passionate and dedicated staff from diverse backgrounds, for example, education professionals, event planners, exhibit curators, archivists, collections managers and many more — 72 full-time-equivalent staff members work at museums in Champaign County throughout the year.

In addition, volunteers have graciously provided their time, labor and enthusiasm at a museum, approximately 6,200 total hours in 2018 or the equivalent of three full-time positions.

Museums are celebrated for advancing their mission as educational resources for all ages.

The Orpheum Children’s Science Museum celebrated 25 years in 2018; the Museum of the Grand Prairie celebrated 50 years last year; and Anita Purves Nature Center is celebrating 40 years this year. As a result, museums have empowered and educated visitors across generations.

Inside Out is an advocate for the network’s member institutions and their contributions to Champaign County and beyond.

So, each week, check this series out to see what’s happening in the museums in the area. You can also learn more by visiting champaigncountymuseums.org.

Xander Hazel is the assistant executive director of the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in Champaign.