Kelley Bass has served as the chief executive officer of the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock for more than 10 years.
The Museum of Discovery, founded in 1927, is Little Rock’s premier science and technology center. The museum’s mission is to ignite and fuel a passion for science, technology, engineering, arts and math through dynamic, interactive experiences.
We recently spoke with Bass about the last couple of years at the museum, including some trying times last February, new features and what’s still to come.
Briefly walk us through the good, bad and ugly from the last 12-18 months at the Museum of Discovery.
We were devastated when we discovered that the boiler on our roof that fed our heating system broke because of the zero-degree temperatures the week of Valentine’s Day 2021. More than 70 percent of our exhibits were destroyed, as were everything in our offices from dry wall to carpet to furniture to computers and other equipment. That was definitely the bad and the ugly — as was missing our second consecutive spring break, after COVID got us in 2020, the spring field trip season and the entire summer, which are our peak attendance times.
The good came as we began to rebuild. What we learned about building insurance is that the insurance company gives you enough money to rebuild exactly as things were before. But it’s fine to do things differently when you rebuild. We were able to do two things we’d always wanted to — more than double the size of the PPG STEAM Studio, where guests engage in a variety of hands-on activities, and greatly enlarge and open up visibility into our animal care facility, giving guest a much better view into the lives of our animal ambassadors and their daily activities and routines.
What opportunities have come from those events?
The chance to offer our guests more engaging opportunities to experience these important parts of our museum.
What most excites you about the new installations?
We debuted our new two-story, three-tower climbing structure on Nov. 19, and it quickly has become the most popular and iconic experience in the museum’s 95-year history. It will be the focal point of our museum for decades to come.
And in November 2023, we should be debuting all new exhibits in the two galleries that were destroyed in our 2021 flood. These two galleries will be known as Science Lab — upstairs — and Dynamic Earth — downstairs — and they will offer dozens of unique experiences and learning opportunities for our guests.
If our fundraising campaign is successful, in November 2024, we will debut two more completely new galleries with all new exhibits, Room to Grow, our gallery for children 6 and younger and their families, and Curiosity Spot, a newly named gallery that will be aimed at kids up to about 11.
How has the Museum of Discovery come back better?
From the new climber, our new cardboard maze and just new floors and new paint, we are clean, fresh and more inviting than ever.
What do you want someone who knows nothing about the Museum of Discovery to know?
Our mission is to ignite and fuel a passion for science, technology, engineering, arts and math through dynamic, interactive, experiences, and that’s primarily aimed at kids, we are a family fun attraction. No one is too young or too old to enjoy the museum.
I also want people to know that we twice have been named the No. 6 children’s museum in the nation by the readers of USA Today — in 2020 and 2021 — and also were named the 6th best science center in the nation in 2013 by the members of MENSA, the world’s largest high-IQ society.
What do you want someone who’s experience with the Museum of Discovery was years ago to now know?
If you haven’t been here since January 2012, when we reopened after a $9.2 million total renovation with all new exhibits, then you really haven’t been here. And if you haven’t come since we reopened in August 2021 after the repairs following our flood, then you really haven’t been here.
And if you haven’t been here since Nov. 19, when we debuted our new climber, then you really haven’t been here.