The Discovery has evolved from a community children’s museum when it opened in 2011 into a regional science museum for all ages. For residents and business owners, the museum is part of the evolution of Reno.
The Discovery — officially known as the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum — benefits the region’s quality of life, which is a major factor when businesses consider relocating to the area.
“Economics is on the forefront” of the discussion, said Mat Sinclair, executive director of The Discovery. “But once they clear that hurdle, why should they move to Reno instead of some other place? It’s quality of life.”
It’s important enough that Doug Erwin, vice president of entrepreneurial development at EDAWN, is also a member of The Discovery board of directors.
“One of the things people misinterpret is that (they think Reno) doesn’t have a lot of cultural and family activities,” said Erwin, who has two young sons plus a background in engineering.
“STEAM — that’s STEM plus arts — is important to me,” he said of his interest in The Discovery. STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Art adds the creative element that drives innovation.
The Discovery and Nevada Museum of Art are among the amenities that create a big-city type of experience in mid-sized Reno, Sinclair said, along with a lively scene in music, arts, theater, festivals, fine dining and more.
“Change is afoot in Reno,” Sinclair said, referring to what is sometimes called a renaissance, rebirth, evolution or reboot of the gaming-dependent Reno into a hub of technology and industry. “There’s a different vibe.”
Beyond contributing to the exciting economic changes happening in the new Reno, The Discovery also creates an atmosphere to channel children towards tomorrow’s technology-based workforce sought after by industry.
“People need to think about The Discovery as a starting point to go into engineering, science, math,” Erwin said. “It’s starts with inspiration.”
The Discovery exposes young students to STEAM subjects in fun ways.
The museum can create that “ah ha” moment, Sinclair said, when a young mind can see this is cool and why this is relevant. “We create a cool experience and a learning experience. It shows kids a pathway to career options in science.”
Businesses already in Reno have discovered the benefits of supporting the museum’s presence in the community where their employees work and play. Those donations help bring inspirational exhibits to The Discovery.
Large donations from Carson Tahoe Health, Renown Health and Reno Orthopaedic clinic enabled installation of the recently opened exhibit Inside Out: an Anatomy Experience.
These “three very large employers in the community see the value of supporting what we do here. And their logos are next to a cool exhibit,” Sinclair said.
Creating innovative, inspiring and fun exhibits comes with high price tags.
Inside Out: an Anatomy Experience cost $1.3 million to create and construct the 2,500-square-foot exhibit, which Sinclair compared to building a house.
The 47 digital and hands-on stations allow the curious of all ages to hear music through their teeth, watch their heat signatures as they jump around, see their veins through their skin, guess smells, test their knowledge and more.
At a recent Social Science mixer — a three-times-a-year, age 21-and-older event — adults danced in front of the heat signature monitor, constructed an arch out of air-filled blocks and played a tuba-o-phone. Another adults-only event is the Chemistry of the Cocktail annual fundraiser, scheduled this year for Oct. 16.
The Discovery also hosts touring exhibits, which cost less than museum-owned exhibits, but move on after their stay.
The staff currently is preparing for its first traveling exhibition, Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants, based on the National Geographic Channel’s popular series Monster Fish. The TV series stars Dr. Zeb Hogan, a University of Nevada, Reno researcher in the College of Science’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science.
The exhibition opened at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., in March and will make its traveling debut at The Discovery in November.
The Monster Fish exhibition features life-size sculptures, hands-on interactive exhibits, videos of more than 20 species and a live alligator gar in its realistic habitat. The exhibit will cost $250,000 for the 6,000 square feet of inspiration and is being brought to Reno through a partnership with The Discovery and UNR. Additional sponsorships are being sought to promote Monster Fish throughout Nevada and northern California, Reno’s drive-up market
Although exhibitions will continue to depend on donations — which will ensure they will continue to be big and spectacular — the museum staff is working to decrease its dependence on donations for its operating budget, which runs about $2.5 million. By 2020, they hope to earn 70 percent or more of the operating budget through admissions, fees for service, rentals and the gift shop.
“We’ll never be at the place where we won’t need philanthropic money, “ Sinclair said.
But the museum has a bigger vision than always chasing donations.
“That’s not a sustainable place to run a business from,” he said. “We run a very lean and focused business. That’s the kind of organization business people want to make investments in.”