Please Touch Museum bounces back from bankruptcy

Children playing in the water play area at Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum

Children enjoy the water play area at Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia expects to emerge from bankruptcy proceedings, with an additional $10 million in its coffers, in January.


“Four to six weeks, give or take the holidays,” said president and CEO Lynn McMaster. “We’re very hopeful we’re going to be doing that.”

Please Touch entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in September with a good foot forward. It had already come to an agreement with the bondholders of a looming $60 million debt, and it launched a $10 million capital campaign.

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McMaster said Tuesday half of that campaign goal has been met, thanks to a $3.25 million gift from an anonymous donor.

“That has really been a game-changer for us,” said McMaster. “That is going to make a huge impact in the effort we’re doing with other donors and major foundations. It’s a gift in all ways.”

McMaster will step down once bankruptcy is settled and the entire $10 million raised. After helming the museum for two years during its financial crisis, the Canadian by birth will move to Toronto where her husband is based.

“My family desperately wants me back, that’s where I belong,” said McMaster. “It’s bittersweet; this institute gets in your bones. I deeply understand its commitment to this city.”

Her successor, Patricia Wellenbach, is a longtime museum consultant who most recently was CEO of Greentree School and Services, a special needs organization in Northwest Philadelphia.

Almost 40 years ago the Please Touch Museum began in a small storefront off Logan Square. Seven years ago, it moved into the enormous Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park and took on enormous debt, which nearly killed the museum.

There is life after debt, Wellenbach said.

“We’re really taking the time to reframe the organization, figuring out what do we need to do that’s new and innovative, build partnerships with the education and culture groups in the region, focus on the future,” she said. “For the past couple years, the organization has been burdened by the debt issue. This will take that burden away.”

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