Night @ the Museum — party before closing for renovations

By Wayne Bryan Published July 27, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

The world’s most powerful conical Tesla coil is on display at the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs. However, visitors to the museum will not be able to see the coil or any of the other exhibits for approximately seven months while the facility undergoes an extensive renovation.

HOT SPRINGS — The Mid-America Science Museum, as known and remembered by a couple of generations of Arkansans and others from surrounding states, will close in August. So the museum staff is having a party.

“Our last day to be open will be Aug. 10, and the renovations and additions for the museum will begin just as soon as we close,” said Diana LaFollette, executive director at MASM. “We plan on reopening in the first week of March.”

Before the museum shuts down for its transformation, MASM will host Night @ the Museum.

“It will be a last chance for everyone to play with their favorite exhibits and enjoy the atmosphere of the museum everyone knows before the entire space is renovated,” LaFollette said. “It’s a great opportunity for a last party, until we open with a bigger party in March.”

It will also be the last time to see the museum’s latest traveling exhibit, Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches.

“The party will have an Amazon theme with Latin American food and a great local dance band called the Midnight Parade,” LaFollette said.

When the museum opens in March, it will place an ever greater emphasis on education. A goal for the educational programs will be to provide resources for teachers to help students glean more from a field trip to the museum. Shena Ball, the museum’s director of education, said there will be more opportunities for teaching science to visitors of all ages, and to direct the learning to better match and enhance school science curriculum.

LaFollette said one of the permanent exhibits that will be new to the museum when it opens will be the Peanut Fountain.

“It is a lot of packing peanuts in a wind tunnel,” she said. “People will be able to make the peanuts hover to different levels and fly different directions by controlling blowers. We will be the first museum in the country to have one. We had lots of fun playing with the prototype.”

Other new features include a 180-degree digital dome that will offer a very new experience.

“One of my favorites will be what I call the interactive sandbox. It is very cool,” LaFollette said.

Some familiar items will remain but will be presented in new ways.

“Of course, we will have the Tesla Theater,” LaFollette said. “We have some other museum classics that are still great science.”

Also new when the museum opens, there will be the long-planned Science Skywalk that will extend from the upper floor of the existing building. The Skywalk, a 4,000-square-foot platform placed 25 to 30 feet off the ground and leading into the forest canopy, will bring visitors up from the ground to view their surroundings from a different perspective.

“There will be multi levels, with a rope bridge and a pavilion that will reach into the woods,” LaFollette said. “That will let people walk among treetops and learn more about the natural forest we have in Arkansas.”

The executive director said work on the Skywalk began Monday, and some demolition work has begun in areas not seen by museum visitors. The big machines will be on-site Friday, and demolition will start inside the museum on Aug. 11.

LaFollette said everyone but the housekeeping staff will remain on the job while the museum is closed.

“There will be plenty to do as we move things and bring in new items,” she said. “We are also building up our volunteer program while we are closed.”

During the renovations, when students will not be able to make field trips to the museum, the educators at the museum will go to the students.

“We have long had a desire to reach out to the community and bring what the museum has to the classroom,” Ball said.

A new program called Science Matters has been created for elementary-school students and teachers.

The program includes five hands-on lessons developed by Ball and the other museum educators, working with the Arkansas Department of Education Science Frameworks. The lessons touch on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and are directed to fourth-graders.

The five programs are Chemical Changes; States of Matter; Force, Direction and Mass; Temperature; and Conductors, Insulators and Circuits.

“The classes will include a lot of activities,” said Ball, who is an educator with a background in corporate training. “In States of Matter, the students will make a cloud in a jar and will learn that gases are still matter and have mass. In the class about temperature, they will learn about convection currents.”

The classes, like the purpose of the museum, are geared toward making science fun and interesting.

“The classes have potential to get kids excited about science,” Ball said. “We hope they can inspire some of them to pick science for a career.”

For more information about seeing the museum before Aug. 10 or to purchase tickets to the Night @ the Museum event, call (501) 767-3461.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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