A light dusting covers the La Platas. The debate over off-road vehicle use on public lands continues with the San Juan National Forest’s recently released draft management plan for the La Plata - Junction Creek landscape, which proposes opening the main La Plata Canyon Road to ORVs./Photo by DavidHalterman

Beyond the building

Discovery Museum starts the next phase of development – longevity
by Tracy Chamberlin

The roof is up and the exhibits are open. Now what? The Durango Discovery Museum is facing that question, and they have an answer.

After years of raising roofs and raising money, the museum announced plans for a new “direction in strategy,” signaling the change from just getting the doors open to finding a way to sustain itself for the long term.

“It’s the exhibits and programs that really make the visitor experience unique,” said Clarie Bradshaw, the museum’s newly appointed major gifts officer.
The main component of the change is to secure grants from the National Science and the Gates Family foundations. These awards will fund programs and initiatives that promote the museum’s vision to lead the Southwest as a science and education center.
The National Science Foundation grant is a cooperative effort that could lead to a $2 million to $3 million award in a few years.
The goal of the award is to set up a network of learning environments and resources across the country that promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. The grant supports the Science Career Ladder program, which helps middle school, high school and college students become future scientists and teachers.
The Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton is the lead on this project, working in partnership with the museum, Del Alma, the University of Colorado Boulder, and Fort Lewis College.

The New York Hall of Science in Queens, N.Y., began a similar program in 1986.
‘Spruce Tree Sarah’ gives a lively lecture to fourth-grade students from Park Elementary inside the Energy Lab at the Durango Discovery Museum on Tuesday. Since opening a year ago, the museum is shifting focus on implementing more educational programs into the mix./Photo by Steve Eginoire.

The difference is that the Discovery Museum will focus on starting this type of program in a rural setting, rather than a city setting. The different demographics require an alternate approach to student development and marketing.

A rural model for the program does not exist. This will be a ground-breaking effort by the Mountain Institute and its partners.

“We would become a training ground for other communities across the Southwest,” Bradshaw said.

The grant partners submitted their letter of intent and have already received a request for a full proposal, due Jan. 12. The museum expects to find out if they have been selected around April or May. If accepted, grant recipients will receive $250,000 over two years to implement a pilot program.

The first step to testing and developing the rural model is to find out just what has worked in New York, and members of the team will travel to Queens to learn about the programs there.

The Discovery Museum and its partners will then implement the program here and test models over the next two years. The information learned over that time will be the basis for the next proposal submitted to the NSF.
If that proposal is accepted, the foundation will award the grant partners $2million to $3 million more to implement and continue to develop the Science Career Ladder program.

One of the things the foundation’s grant will pay for is an internship program. High school and college students can work at the museum, teaching and explaining exhibits to visitors and assisting with the science camps.

“It will actually generate a work force for us,” Bradshaw said.

The participants in the program gain experience that promotes professional and personal development. The museum, in turn, inherits the help it needs to meet the growing demands from visitors.

The other component of the museum’s change in direction is to earn the Gates Family Foundation challenge grant.

The museum is challenged to raise $600,000 over the next 12 months. If it can do this, it will receive a matching grant of $100,000 from the foundation.

No events or fund-raisers are currently planned, however the clock is ticking. The museum needs to raise the funds by November of next year.
The money awarded by the Gates Foundation would be used to enhance the museum’s exhibits, programs and camps in an effort to improve the overall visitor experience.

“It hasn’t even been a full year since we opened and our members, visitors and the young scientists enrolled in our many programs are asking for more,” stated Haz Said, in charge of marketing, communications and visitor experience.

Some of the more immediate additions to the museum include additional science camps, a new energy exhibit, and a 3D printer in the Spark Shop. However, Said added, the museum is always looking for ways to offer more.

“The future of the museum can only be secured with strategic efforts to raise the funds required for further growth,” Melissa Youssef, president of the museum’s Board of Directors, said in a statement.

Another strategic effort to raise those funds will be to help inform and educate the community about a lodger’s tax proposed by the City of Durango for the 2012 General Election ballot.

The measure will provide funding for community organizations like the museum, and a draft must be filed by April of next year.
For the museum, this kind of funding can help provide a yearly source of revenue to pay for the basic necessities like electric and water bills.
Bradshaw, the former Executive Director of the museum, changed positions within the organization to focus on the museum’s new strategic initiatives.
“While I will miss the challenges as executive director, I also welcome turning over the Durango Discovery Museum to a new executive director who also shares this passion for experiential science education,” Bradshaw said in a statement.

Ashley Hein, the community outreach manager and former Discovery Kids manager, is serving as the interim executive director. The museum’s board has not formally advertised the search for a new director but plan on beginning relatively soon, according to Youssef.­­­


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