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Museum of Discovery Completes Renovation, Opens Saturday

3 min read

The Museum of Discovery in Little Rock will reopen on Saturday following a near year-long $9.2 million renovation effort that’s added three new galleries containing 85 interactive exhibits for all ages.

Gov. Mike Beebe, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, museum officials and representatives from the nonprofit Donald W. Reynolds Foundation marked the grand re-opening of the River Market District mainstay on Friday.

Since temporarily closing in April, the museum has gutted the inside of the building, moved its entrance to a new part of the space and added more than 13,000 SF of exhibit space.

The renovation was made possible through a matching grant from the Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization that’s funded dozens of cultural and educational projects throughout the state.

Museum officials have said they expect the renovation to increase museum traffic by 25 percent. Beebe has cited the project’s importance in both strengthening the connection of Arkansas students to math and science, and its economic-development impact on downtown Little Rock.

Stodola echoed thos comments on Friday.

"There are now eight museums within walking distance from our convention center," Stodola said in his remarks. "They are a magnet for recruiting people to our city…"

Beebe thanked the Reynolds Foundation for its donation.

"Sometimes a fire can only be lit outside the classroom. Some get all their tools in the classroom, but others need the extra application, the interactive activities like they’ll find here [at the Museum of Discovery]," he said. "Whatever it takes to maximize a child’s exposure is what we need to be doing."

Now that the renovation is complete, the Reynolds Foundation will contribute an additional $800,000 for a building maintenance fund.

A New Look

The museum’s new entrance opens on the Great Hall, where A Helix Wave, a kinetic sculpture with undulating wooden planks powered by giant piano strings, hangs overhead. The area is for receptions, weddings, gatherings and special events.

Three new areas of exploration are:

  • Amazing You, dealing with the human body
  • Discovery Hall, where physics, engineering and math are investigated
  • Earth Journeys, which examines global earth processes and extreme weather

The Science Museum of Minnesota worked with the museum to design the three-gallery format, select the exhibits and to develop interpretive signs. Visitors can learn about Amazing Airways, figure out how to build things in the Tinkering Studio, play with a puzzle of the Arkansas River, visit the Extreme Weather Station and view a huge topographic map of Arkansas.

New to the museum is Tornado Alley, where visitors can ride out the 1999 twister that hit Little Rock while listening to memories of those who experienced it.

Eighteen live animal habitats on the museum floor include ferrets, birds, spiders, snakes, owls, and flying squirrels.

The Window of Wonder (WOW) Gallery will house traveling exhibits. The first, which can be seen when the museum reopens, is Dinosaur Discoveries: Ancient Fossils, New Ideas. The massive exhibit, custom-built by New York’s American Museum of Natural History, spans 1,500 SF and includes seven interactive stations that focus on how dinosaurs lived, maneuvered, defended themselves, and how they eventually became extinct.

(Lindsay Irvin and Karen Martin contributed to this story.)

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