Kelley Bass, 54, spent 18 years in the newspaper business as a reporter, columnist and editor at the Arkansas Gazette, Springfield News-Leader and Arkansas Times. He then served nine years in corporate communications at Acxiom Corp., working directly for the company’s senior leadership team.
Before becoming CEO at the Museum of Discovery in December 2012, Bass was assistant dean for external affairs for the Donaghey College of Engineering & Information Technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He remains active in the central Arkansas nonprofit community, serving on the board of Riverfest, for which he chaired the 30th anniversary festival in 2007, and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.
The Museum of Discovery, established in 1927 as the Museum of Natural History & Antiquities, was honored in February as the Nonprofit Organization of the Year at the 26th annual Arkansas Business of the Year Awards.
How does MOD’s mission fit in with the state’s educational needs?
We are an important part of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pipeline. Since No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2001, 30 percent less science is being taught before fifth grade. We help fill that gap. We help kids get comfortable with STEM concepts, gain confidence and envision themselves pursuing STEM careers.
How are you faring in terms of raising enough money to get that $1.8 million from the Reynolds Foundation?
We received full Reynolds funding for the $9.2 million museum transformation after we got $1.8 million in pledges. And for the most part, those pledges have converted into donations. But we are going to have to re-raise about $150,000 of that money. We identified the problem with people not fulfilling their pledges almost two years ago and have been working hard since then to build a reserve to apply to defaulted pledges. Once we collect the full $1.8 million, Reynolds will send us $805,000 to establish a much-needed building maintenance fund, and we will begin drawing 5 percent of the $1.8 million each year for the next 20 years. We are confident we’ll reach the goal by our Jan. 14, 2015, deadline, but we could use the help any generous Arkansans want to offer. Just give me a call!
The museum has seen a big increase in visitors — and excitement — since its renovation. How do you plan to keep the momentum going?
We indeed are 58 percent up in visitors in the first two years we were reopen (2012-13) vs. the last two years of the “old museum” (2009-10). We have to keep things fresh and offer programming and temporary exhibits that compel people to return to the museum again and again.
What’s the No. 1 goal you want the MOD to have attained by 2019, five years from now?
We are building momentum as a provider of continuing education and professional development for elementary school science teachers. I hope in five years we’ve greatly expanded that service and helped more Arkansas teachers bring hands-on science learning into their classrooms.
What did you learn from your career in journalism that has been most helpful to you now in your role as leader of a high-profile nonprofit?
Most of my time is spent communicating — with the media about the museum, our programs and services and why we’re important; with donors and potential donors about those same subjects; with staff on our priorities and our role as an important Arkansas institution. Working to develop a compelling story and tell it in a compelling fashion are what I did in journalism, particularly as a columnist, and they are the keys to any successes I’ve had in the 15 years since I’ve left journalism.