Big Ideas for Small Science Centers

On Saturday afternoon, a large crowd gathered to discuss Big Ideas for Small Science Centers. The session was led by Michele Laverty of the National Ag Science Center, with presenters Kathy Dawes of the Palouse Discovery Science Center, Lori Ann Teriesen of Children’s Science Center, Kathleen Krafft from Sciencenter, and Christopher Cable from the Durango Discovery Museum.

The session began with brief presentations from each presenter, then the group broke out into rounds of smaller, roundtable discussions. Michele Laverty focused on gaining community support for small museums. The National Ag Science Center is a science center without a building, and their programs are completely dependent on community support so that they can provide low or no cost programs for students in underserved areas. Kathy Dawes also spoke about financial concerns for small science centers, focusing on the challenges of setting up outreach programs with a limited budget, finding and storing materials, and grant and collaboration opportunities.

Christopher Cable, who is from an institution that receives no public funds, focused his roundtable discussions on increasing income at small science centers, including the current rise in demand for evening adult programs and hosted events like weddings and parties. Lori Ann Teriesen discussed what is needed to start a science center or outreach program, such as articulating your mission and vision, responding to the needs to the community, asking for help, and using available resources. Kathleen Krafft focused on exhibit development with limited funds and space. “It doesn’t take much to just jump in,” she said. Krafft discussed using ideas from other science centers and the importance of prototyping.