Coral Gables

Coral Gables Museum’s educational programs get recognition

Exterior of the Coral Gables Museum on 285 Aragon Ave.
Exterior of the Coral Gables Museum on 285 Aragon Ave. Courtesy of Coral Gables Museum

The Coral Gables Museum, which strives to engage the community in architecture design, planning and preservation, has recently received local and state recognition for its successful educational programs.

The museum received the Diamond Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Organization from the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the museum’s business excellence, stability and growth and community outreach.

The museum, which opened in 2011 after the city of Coral Gables paid to restore an old municipal building, has been able to increase its budget annually while making connections in the community through its exhibits and programs. Through memberships, rentals and grants from the city, county and state, the museum has been able to double its operating budget, at $893,000, since it first opened.

Museum chairman Chip Withers, a former city commissioner who first came up with the idea of adding a museum in the city, said he is looking to continue expanding the museum’s programing and cultural reach, while increasing revenue.

“The city has been so supportive,” Withers said. “Now that we have the momentum, we plan to improve what we have. We plan to hire a development director to seek out future sponsors.”

Also recently, the museum received a $200,000 grant from the Florida Department of Education to expand its Green City Program so it will be offered at no cost to all K-12 students in Miami-Dade County.

Kids take field trips to the museum to learn about designing communities with the principles of environmental sustainability and introduces them to architecture, design, urban planning, as well as historic and environmental preservation.

“What we are teaching them is what we focus on,” said museum director Christine Rupp. “The state has recognized that this can be a successful program. We found a cool little niche.”

About 30 schools have visited the museum, Rupp said, and with the state grant, the museum is hoping to expand further by hiring experts in architecture and environmental education to teach students in specially designed tours throughout the year. In the program, the museum teaches kids are three different levels according to age group.

Abena Robinson, lead museum magnet curator at W. J. Bryan Elementary School, said that the field trip to the Coral Gables Museum for the Green City Program inspired students to make a class project.

“The kids are building a greenhouse made from water bottles,” Robinson said.

The concept of building a museum in an old Coral Gables municipal building started in the 1990s and went through several different cycles of city officials until the Coral Gables Museum finally opened its doors in 2011.

Since then, the relatively small civic arts museum, located in the downtown Coral Gables, has established itself as different, by focusing on the programs and services to enhance exhibits and become community attraction across Miami-Dade County.

The museum has become known for its walking, cycling and canoe tours, offering family day, kids’ gallery night, spring and summer camps and teacher workshops. The museum’s lobby was also designated as the City of Coral Gables’ Official Visitors Center.

The museum has also created strong partnerships with educational institutions, preservationists and other cultural groups as part of its mission to engage people in the civic arts and historic and environmental preservation.

For example, a recent exhibit that explores the consequences of sea level rise in Miami titled, “Miami 2100,” was designed by FIU architecture students and curated by their professors. Also, the museum’s exhibit on the Miami Marine Stadium, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, won an honorable mention in the Preservation/Media category from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation in 2014.

“We are not your mother’s museum,” said Withers. “There are some great museum’s in South Florida, but we’re not trying to swim in that pond.”