Museum of Discovery exhibits to open in Conway
Kim Williams, director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, ducked and walked through a rock tunnel in a Mayan ruin.
“Oooh, I’m scared. There are some … creatures in here,” Williams said, joking.
The Museum of Discovery in Little Rock is installing three temporary exhibits in a vacant downtown Conway building. The exhibits will open with free admission from Presidents Day, Feb. 18, through Toad Suck Daze in May.
The exhibits are being installed in 5,000 square feet of the Grand Theatre Building at Oak and Chestnut streets, the building that most recently housed Vesta’s and Funky Junky.
The exhibits are Mystery of the Mayan Medallion and Science and Art, as well as Eat Well, Play Well. They will be open to the public on the weekends and during spring break in March, as well as on Monday through Friday for school groups. Hours of operation will be posted on the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau Facebook page.
Jamie Gates, executive vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said that if people enjoy the temporary exhibits, downtown might become home to a permanent Museum of Discovery exhibit.
“We’re interested in doing this as a proof of concept,” Gates said. “We’re intentional here.”
If the response is positive, Gates said, “How about we get behind a 10,000- or
12,000-square-foot satellite location for the Museum of Discovery in downtown Conway?”
The long-term goal for the vacant Grand Theatre Building, as outlined in the chamber’s 2025 plan, is to renovate the building and make it a 400-seat performance venue. The original theater closed in 1956. A permanent Museum of Discovery exhibit would have to be in a larger downtown location, Gates said.
Kelley Bass, CEO for the Museum of Discovery, said leasing the exhibits “seemed like a natural extension” because of the great relationship the museum has with the chamber.
The chamber and the museum’s Discovery Network partnered with other entities to provide Science, Technology, Engineering and Math kits and training for 25 elementary schools in six counties. The students demonstrated what they learned at Tinkerfest during Toad Suck Daze in downtown Conway in May. The second annual Tinkerfest is scheduled for this year’s festival and will be expanded from one block to two blocks, Gates said.
The temporary exhibits are made possible through a partnership that includes Toad Suck Daze, Nabholz Construction, the Conway Downtown Partnership, and the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“[The Museum of Discovery] is giving us a very good deal,” Gates said.
He said that although these exhibits could cost a total of $50,000 to $80,000, the chamber and its partners were able to lease them at a “substantial discount” as part of the chamber’s 2019 budget.
Bass said the traveling Mystery of the Mayan Medallion and Arts and Science exhibits are “two of our blockbuster exhibits” that the museum owns. The target age groups for those exhibits is children 6 to 12 years old.
Although it was still being set up, the Mayan exhibit had displays such as Mayan Botanicals, asking participants to “Use your senses to explore Mayan plants,” and an interactive display to reassemble a Mayan pot. In another display, visitors can examine the skulls of rainforest animals.
The backdrop is Palenque, Mexico, and participants can locate a precious medallion by following clues left by an archeological team.
The Arts and Science exhibit is designed to demonstrate that the two disciplines have a lot in common. For example, the exhibit has a
display of origami sculptures that are made with mathematical principals and folding rules. Visitors can fold their own art to take home, according to a press release from the Conway Chamber.
The Eat Well, Play Well exhibit was acquired by the museum through a grant, Bass said, and is being loaned to the chamber at no cost. The exhibit is geared to children ages 4 to 12.
Eat Well, Play Well is described in a flyer as “a highly interactive bilingual exhibit” that encourages healthy living by teaching the science of making healthy food choices. Visitors can test their flexibility and balance, too.
“We’re super excited for, hopefully, tens of thousands of schoolchildren and families to get to experience these exhibits in their hometown,” Bass said. He also expects many out-of-town visitors to the exhibits.
The museum space will be available for field trips by appointment Monday through Friday, the press release states, and “should offer 45 to 60 minutes of engagement for approximately 25 students.”
For more information about scheduling a field trip, email field[email protected] conwayarkansas.org.
Bass said that in 2018, the museum had 4,735 Faulkner County students attend through organized school field trips, second only to students in Pulaski County.
Rachel Shaw, director of destination marketing for the Conway Chamber, said the two main exhibits haven’t been on display in Arkansas for several years.
“The kids it’s ageappropriate for would not have seen it,” she said.
Bass said a permanent exhibit is “something we’d certainly love to consider. It would be a big undertaking, and we would have to talk about how it would work, how it would be staffed. It’s a model that has worked in other cities.”
Williams said the exhibit “is another layer to getting more people to come downtown … a way to introduce younger kids to downtown. They don’t come downtown except for a parade or something.”
She said the downtown partnership is working with downtown restaurants to “develop a price range to share with the schools so they can take the kids to different restaurants.”
Bass said the chamber’s rallying of support for schoolchildren “is something that makes us happy.”
The Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, with several partners, will open temporary Museum of Discovery exhibits Feb. 18 at 1101 Oak. St. in downtown Conway. Shown with part of the Mystery of the Mayan Medallion exhibit are, from left, Rachel Shaw, director of destination marketing for the chamber; Jamie Gates, executive vice president with the chamber; and Kim Williams, executive director of the Conway Downtown Partnership.
One of the displays in the Museum of Discovery’s Mystery of the Mayan Medallion exhibit, which will open Feb. 18 in downtown Conway, showcases skulls of rainforest animals, including a jaguar and a howler monkey. Two other exhibits will be available in the space, and admission will be free. The exhibits will be open to the public on weekends and during spring break and to school groups on weekdays.