Hiller Aviation Museum hopes virtual gala offsets financial crash landing


Andrew Tolu

Just outside Hiller Aviation Museum, an aircraft is featured being “flown” by a statue in a mask. On Oct. 17, Hiller reopened its museum to the public, and this statue is demonstrative of the increased safety guidelines Hiller has had to undergo during its reopening process.

As museums around the country are in danger of closing their doors due to a lack of funding, Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos is holding a virtual gala in an attempt to raise desperately needed funds to keep their doors open.

Hiller Aviation Museum will have its annual Clear Skies Ahead Gala live-streamed on Oct. 24. The gala is free to attend, but there are opportunities for patrons to donate. The President and CEO of Wisk, Gary Gysin, will be speaking at the event about the future of urban air travel. The gala attempts to balance the revenue Hiller has lost during the pandemic and support their STEM education programs. 

“We have a plan, and we’re excited to be moving forward. The gala is definitely a huge source of support for the museum, and it couldn’t be more important this year more than others,” said Rebecca Duran, Hiller’s vice president of development.

The gala occurs at a difficult time for Hiller since it has not been open to the public for the majority of the past six months. Hiller opened to the public on Oct. 17 due to increasingly less strict county guidelines, after being open for a brief time during the summer. When it comes to Hiller’s financial health, it gains a large portion of its revenue through admission sales and gift shop purchases, which the pandemic has limited. The Clear Skies Ahead Gala is an opportunity for Hiller to regain lost funds, which is apparent through its goal of raising $125,000.

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We have a plan, and we’re excited to be moving forward. The gala is definitely a huge source of support for the museum, and it couldn’t be more important this year more than others.”

— Rebecca Duran

Although Hiller’s financials have taken a hit during COVID-19, this hasn’t stopped their staff from continuing to help the community. Hiller has kept its in-person camps open throughout the summer, has programs coming up over Thanksgiving and winter break, and has continued with its in-person after-school camps. Hiller’s staff maintains that they have been keeping up with county guidelines to ensure everyone who visits the museum remains safe. They also offer many virtual programs for families who cannot attend in-person activities. These virtual programs support kids whose schools have adopted distance learning, especially those who might be struggling without hands-on experiences. 

“[Our virtual distance programs are] similar to our virtual invention lab,” said Linh Fanger, director of education. “We’ll have an introduction, we’ll do a tour of the museum, and then we’ll do a hands-on project.”

These two initiatives are vital to both families and classes who cannot participate in Hiller’s in-person activities. However, kids who can attend in-person events can visit the museum or participate in after-school camps, as long as they adhere to strict safety ordinances. 

Carlmont student and teen volunteer, Robyn Stein, worked at Hiller for over 200 hours this summer.

“I think [Hiller] did a good job of keeping everyone safe, and they had it really [well] thought-out before they went through with their plans,” Stein said.

Notwithstanding Hiller’s ability to maintain a positive impact on the community throughout rocky financial times, it comes as a relief to much of the Hiller staff that they are once again able to open their doors to the public, even with the weekend-only restriction.

“We’re looking forward to being able to be open. Revenue through gate attendance is another important revenue stream for us, as is our gift shop and programs. So for us, being able to have our doors open is a critical part of our operation, and not being able to do that for many months has certainly taken its toll,” Duran said.

Hiller has taken substantial hits when it comes to funding constraints and has not offered the same number of activities to as many people in 2020 as they have in previous years.  One example of this is the all-girls camp Hiller provided in 2019 that gave low-income families the opportunity to send their kids to Hiller’s summer camp. Hiller could not offer the program this past summer due to a lack of funding and the pandemic’s constraints.

Despite these complications, Hiller has been making plans to continue offering virtual activities to the public. They are also planning to institute some of their virtual undertakings into their post-pandemic affairs. Additionally, despite Hiller’s financial problems, the staff attests that they have a plan for Hiller’s economic future and are excited to be moving forward. They believe that they are on track to receive enough funds to keep the museum readily available to the public. 

“We’re just glad to be getting the word out that we are newly reopened,” Duran said. “We do have this gala coming up next week, and if folks are interested in supporting the local science museum, we really welcome the support, and we appreciate it.”