From An Idea and A Dream
The Museum of Arts and Sciences was started from “an idea and a dream,” in the words of one of its founders, but no money. In 1956, a group of educators and civic-minded individuals who wanted to enrich the educational opportunities of Bibb County school children joined forces to bring that dream to fruition. Launched with a $25 gift from a first grade teacher, the Museum’s first operating income came from the United Givers Fund, a forerunner of the United Way, and the Junior League of Macon via annual contracts; it was several years before the Board was able to hire directors with museological credentials. Despite its modest beginnings, the Museum has grown, in partnership with dedicated volunteers, numerous community organizations, and support from local governments, from a single rented room in the basement of an abandoned conservatory to a professionally designed, 55,000 sq. ft. building on 14 acres.
Major capital efforts in 1964, 1980-84, 1989, and 1996 produced facilities that include four changing exhibition galleries; a three-story Discovery House with hands-on interactive exhibits interpreting art, science, and humanities; an installation for the display of a varied collection of live mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects; a 40-foot domed planetarium; an observatory; a network of nature trails and gardens; and a collections storage vault, a 250-seat auditorium, a classroom, and a store.
The Museum serves approximately 70,000 people annually, including approximately 15,000 school children on class visits. Because it is located in a small market area, has small, if growing, collections, and wishes to encourage repeat visitation, it has relied on a varied program of changing exhibits, planetarium and live animal shows, classes, camps and special events, to fulfill its mission and vision.
Given the scarcity of available resources, it is only through extensive planning that the Museum has been able to achieve the institutional growth and progress that have marked its fifty-five year history. The first Ten Year Plan resulted in the 27,000 sq. ft. expansion implemented in 1980-84. A new plan was adopted with the completion of the first, leading to the Museum’s initial 1986 accreditation, the establishment of an endowment and a development office; an increase in programming, staff diversity and size; and capital renovations to the planetarium. In 1990, the Board established a new planning process that involved an analysis of the Museum’s internal and external environments, strengths and weaknesses, developments in other museums, and current and expected visitation and resources, which led to the 1996 development of the Discovery House and its “Backyard,” a vehicle for housing the Museum’s popular live animals. As soon as that facility opened, yet another planning process began, this time focused on maintaining and improving programs and facilities, rather than expanding them. Clearly, the planning process had become an ongoing priority, overseen by a standing committee of the Museum’s Board of Directors.
In the last decade, the process has not been abandoned, if somewhat interrupted by a fourfold turnover in leadership, as directors who left for other opportunities were replaced by interim stewards. In 2006, however, to mark its fiftieth birthday and the advent of the present director, the Board of Directors engaged the Fanning Institute at the University of Georgia to guide it through the identification of critical needs and opportunities in preparation for the development of yet another Long Range Plan, which was adopted in 2009. That study recognized the Mark Smith Planetarium and the Discovery House as the primary focus of visitor interest.
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