Creative Discovery Museum is celebrating 20 years of serving children in the community.
As of this month, it has attracted 4 million visitors since its opening 20 years ago. This “fun house” still offers families a new way of looking at the arts and sciences and “sparking” the passions of a 2nd generation of Chattanooga’s children, said officials.
“Our mission is to inspire all children to explore, innovate, create and play,” said Henry Schulson, executive director. “We are proud to have served 4 million visitors in our history and look forward to serving millions more as we work toward our vision to make Chattanooga the best place for a child to grow up.”
To celebrate, the Museum will host a birthday celebration on May 26 featuring over-sized birthday party games. The event will include a dunking booth with Mr. Schulson and other staff, three large piñatas filled with candy and a water balloon slink shot to take aim at the flag on the Museum’s logo on the building. The Discovery Mobile will be on hand for other science and art activities as well as the extra large birthday cake. The celebration will include remarks from Mr. Schulson, prior to his dunk tank appearance and other board members. The event is included with general admission to the Museum and will last from 1-3 p.m.
The idea of a museum just for children was born in 1989 by the Board of the Hunter Museum of American Art after they evaluated the viability of developing a children’s wing for the art museum. They recommended that a separate children’s museum be created as part of the revitalization of downtown Chattanooga. The design plans and initial concepts were developed by a team of educators, local and national content specialists, and focus groups of children and teachers.
Children of Chattanooga were part of the planning from the beginning. “The whole idea of the project came out of children as they would tell us how they best learn.” said Andree Caldwell, the executive director and key planner of the project.
Throughout the years, CDM has become recognized as an educational resource by establishing collaborative programs with organizations throughout the community and by offering a variety of educational programs, including a growing school outreach program in which professional Museum educators go out into the classroom and present lessons to area school children, said officials.
The Museum assumed ownership and operation of the News Channel 9 Science Theater in Northgate Mall in 2004 which became a component of its science education efforts. The Science Theater moved to the main campus of the Museum in 2010.
The Museum completed a renovation of the facility as part of the 21st Century Waterfront Plan which began with the opening of RiverPlay in 2003 and concluded with the addition of the outdoor Rooftop Fun Factory in 2005.
Innovative programs for children with disabilities were also established, including the Friends Discovery Camp for children with autism, Club Discovery, the after-school program for children with special needs and typically developing peers, and the joint disabilities awareness exhibit “Kids Like You, Kids Like Me” in partnership with Siskin Children’s Institute. The Museum has also received a national award for its programs for children with disabilities from the Association of Children’s Museums.
“We want children to learn that often there isn’t one right answer and they need to look at a problem from many different aspects” Lu Lewis, then education director and long-time Museum staff member told the Tennessee Teachers Education Association in 1995. “Creativity is not a happening, it’s very difficult work. It can only occur if you have a variety of experiences and knowledge to draw from – then you can create new ways of playing music, solving a problem, or inventing a machine. We need creative thinkers who are capable of devising new solutions in order to make the world function.”
At the grand opening event on May 26, 1995 Mayor Gene Roberts said as he entered the doors. “This is a wonderful, magical place” He was joined by dignitaries far and wide. Chairwoman of the Chattanooga City Council, Mai Bell Hurley, called the museum “absolutely spectacular” and noted “it links the early childhood and later development of children to creativity, which is really one of the keys to creating a whole person.”