On Oct. 29, the South Carolina State Museum observed 25 years of service to the Palmetto State and its visitors. For two and half decades, the State Museum has been educating schoolchildren, engaging families and entertaining guests. We are proud of the impact we have made over that time and are excited about the future as we launch the museum into the next quarter century.
The idea of building a state museum began in 1968, and five years later, the state legislature under Gov. John C. West established the South Carolina Museum Commission. The small staff, over a period of 15 years, built the museum’s collection from the ground up. After 20 years, the State Museum finally opened to the public on Oct. 29, 1988 with the support of Gov. Carroll Campbell, our state’s legislators and many more great people.
We call the museum “South Carolina under One Roof” because it truly is a place where guests of all ages can encounter the culture, history and uniqueness of virtually every phase of South Carolina through our diverse collection, engaging programs and fascinating exhibits. Our collection contains more than 100,000 artifacts spread over four disciplines – art, history, natural history and science/technology.
Let me offer a few highlights of the museum’s impact on our state:
Since the museum opened its doors, more than 4.5 million visitors have admired and learned from our exhibitions and programs.
The museum delivers approximately $22 million in economic impact each year to the state.
More than 65,000 South Carolina schoolchildren from all 46 counties tour the museum each year, free of charge.
Since its opening, the museum has presented more than 125 changing exhibitions on subjects as diverse as ancient Egypt, outer space, dinosaurs and even South Carolina football.
We have loved bringing the great story of South Carolina to the people of our state and out-of-state tourists, and we look forward to celebrating our 25th anniversary by opening our long-awaited expansion project, “Windows to New Worlds.” The project, slated to open in 2014, is the result of more than 15 years of planning, designing and fundraising and will add more than 70,000 square feet of new and renovated space to the museum.
The project will position the State Museum for the next 25 years. Once complete, the museum will be the only attraction in the nation to have a state-of-the-art observatory, a 55-foot digital-dome planetarium and theater and an immersive 4D theater under one roof. We expect the new expansion to draw an additional 100,000 visitors in its first full year. School visitation is expected to grow by 25,000 as new standards-based lessons and programs will be possible, especially in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It also will help close the “access” gap to disadvantaged children across the state through enhanced distance learning opportunities.
The project will transform the museum into a true cultural destination for travelers, bringing in additional tax revenues and significantly boosting revenue for local retail shops, restaurants and hotels.
None of these accomplishments would be possible without the help and support of many people. We want to express our deepest gratitude to the many contributors who have supported us through the years, from state legislators and governors who helped us get started and have continued to support us, to members of the South Carolina Museum Commission and the board members of the State Museum Foundation, to our donors, museum members, volunteers and our talented, loyal staff, several of whom have served the museum since its opening. We also thank you, the public, for your support through visits and patronage. We serve for your benefit.
Though 25 years is a landmark occasion, the State Museum is still a very young institution. Please join us as we grow into the next quarter-century of documenting, preserving and exhibiting the history and culture of our wonderful state. It promises to be a thrilling adventure.
The writer is executive director, South Carolina State Museum