In the News: Discovery Center Celebrates 10 Years!
The Discovery Center is celebrating its 10th birthday this week. The nonprofit children’s museum, located in Topeka’s Gage Park, opened to the public on June 1, 2011. The organization will celebrate the occasion from June 2 to 6 with free admission for all 10 year olds, a 10 percent discount on all gift shop merchandise, and pop-up programs throughout the week.
Over the past ten years, the organization has grown significantly, gaining prominence as a regional tourist attraction and community anchor for families. The museum has hosted five major traveling exhibitions. Access Discovery Programs, which ensure museum access for all children, now account for more than 10 percent of admissions and thousands more children served in community outreach events. Since opening in 2011, the museum has hosted over 700,000 visitors from all 50 states and 23 countries. President/CEO Dené Mosier has led the museum since 2015.
The museum saw record attendance in 2019, hosting 97,989 visitors. Visitors to the children’s museum increased 10.81 percent from 2018, when 88,423 visitors set the previous attendance record. Of the museum’s 97,989 visitors in 2019, 28.97 percent lived outside Shawnee County. Over 3,000 visitors came from outside Kansas in 2019, including five foreign countries. The museum celebrated its 700,000th visitor in February of 2020, shortly before closure.
The pandemic presented significant challenges to the privately-funded museum, which closed for four months and lost 93 percent of projected admission and membership income in 2020. Despite the losses, the museum served families throughout the pandemic. Shortly after closing the building in March, museum staff called and emailed thousands of local families to find out about their needs and responded with online activity videos and learning kit deliveries. Activities helped families use play to explore science, technology, engineering, art and math. Discovery at Home online videos were viewed over 400,000 times, and nearly 3,000 learning kits were distributed. Ten Discovery Play spaces, educational play installations, were installed in local parks. Museum programs have specifically targeted low-income and underserved children, out of concern for learning gaps created by limited access to educational resources for many families during the pandemic.
The museum is now open to the public with new exhibits and strict infection control measures. The Discovery Center is on a path towards financial sustainability with generous community support.