by Mark Rummel
From the outside, things are pretty quiet these days around the Sloan Museum, an anchor building in Flint’s Cultural Center. But inside, renovation work is underway all over the place. Things will never be the same.
That’s because the new Sloan Museum of Discovery will emerge from the construction now underway, nearly doubling in size during the $26.5 million renovation program, scheduled to open in late 2021.
Featured will be a hands-on science Discovery Hall, an Early Childhood Gallery plus refurbished and re-imagined Galleries highlighting Flint history, according to Museum Executive Director Todd Slisher. It was time for an overall update and refreshment of displays — and the new Sloan Museum of Discovery will cater to a younger audience, he explains.
“We realized early on that, although most of the exhibits in the building are aimed for adults, our audience is mostly children,” Slisher told reporters at the ground breaking last June 12. Up to 80% of past museum-goers were youngsters, and changes were needed.
The museum’s 10,000-sq-ft Discovery Hall is designed to engage all ages with interactive displays, rather than having exhibits people merely observe, he says. A three-story Spaceship Earth, a Maker Space, water tables and more offerings will engage visitors in earth and physical science exploration — all while keeping their feet on solid ground, Slisher says.
“Kids learn through much more interactive experiences,” he adds. “We also wanted to provide more gallery space for people to explore and to be truer to our mission.” Story-telling will be featured, and displays will change more frequently, he says.
Another feature will be a new 10,000-sq-ft Vehicle City Gallery to display rotating exhibits of classic autos. Many of these were previously housed in the Buick Gallery area. The exhibit will also look ahead at the future of automobiles and transportation, thanks to partnerships with General Motors and Kettering University. Topics such as autonomous vehicles, fuel cells and advanced vehicle technology will be featured, he adds.
“You’ll feel like you walked back into a period of history, rather than looking at an artifact,” Slisher says. Three classrooms will replace the current single classroom — allowing up to 90,000 school children to use the Sloan Museum of Discovery, from the current 60,000 students visiting annually.
Working with Genesee County Head Start, the museum’s Early Childhood Gallery will become a resource for play-based learning for little ones to the age of 6. This is designed to prepare children for kindergarten, Slisher says.
Greater accessibility with two new entrances, new stairs and ramps will make entry into the museum even easier, he adds. There will even be a cafe for hungry museum-goers, among the many improvements.
In the meantime, the Sloan Museum at Courtland Center Mall has been established to help people stay in touch with local history. It is open seven days each week and currently features two special programs: “Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss” and “Roll, Drop, Bounce” each running Feb. 1 through Sept. 13. Details are available at sloanlongway.org.
LONGWAY PLANETARIUM IS BUSY, TOO
But there’s plenty going on at the nearby Robert T. Longway Planetarium too. The famous green-domed building gives everyone a chance to reach for the stars with several sky shows daily.
Longway Planetarium had its own renovation update in 2015 and now features a new state-of-the-art Digistar 5 projector system — which offers an impressive full-dome show in full color overhead, Slisher says. Star-watchers can “lift off from earth” and fly out of our solar system, all while staying seated under the Planetarium dome. New seating and the digital 15,000-watt Dolby 7.1 surround sound system lets you experience much more in space, too, Slisher adds.
Flint and Genesee County residents receive 50% off Longway Planetarium tickets, thanks to last year’s approval of the Genesee County Arts Education & Cultural Enrichment Millage. Plus, general admission to the Sloan Museum at Courtland Center Mall is free. Some traveling exhibits have a small admission charge, but local residents get the same 50% discount, thanks to support of the millage.