Trial run

Mu­seum of Dis­cov­ery ex­hibits to open in Con­way

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RIVER VALLEY & OZARK - BY TAMMY KEITH Se­nior Writer

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.”

TAMMY KEITH/RIVER VAL­LEY & OZARK EDI­TION

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.

TAMMY KEITH/RIVER VAL­LEY & OZARK EDI­TION

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.

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