Learning Moments Made Fresh Daily for 22 Years
The mission of the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum is to foster family and youth-inspired learning by creating experiences to explore ourselves, our valley, our world and beyond. The museum’s exhibit and program-based “please touch” atmosphere engenders the best in self-discovery for children and their families. Now in our 22nd year as the only children’s museum in Santa Barbara County, we currently serve over 32,000 children and their families every year and we continue to grow in service and demand.
The Discovery Museum first opened its doors in 1996 in a small strip mall in Santa Maria. In 2004, the museum completed a capital campaign, renovated a space in an historic commercial building in the heart of downtown, installed hands-on learning exhibits for children and opened its new doors to the community in January of 2005. This 13,000 square foot facility now has over 25 exhibit areas, including five new exhibits — the Discovery Reading Tree, Discovery Farms Produce Truck, Catching Air, Moxie Cafe and our “Recycling is Fun” kiosk. Our museum exhibits are expanded and supplemented for the visitor through our weekly enrichment and education programming. Our Tuesday Tales, Preschool Patrol, Passport Thursday, Fit Friday, Science Saturday and Super Sunday programs grew so much in popularity over the past two years, we added a second afternoon session so that more families could participate. These much-beloved programs are now offered at 11:00 and 2:30, six days a week.
Along with the development of a Maker Lab adjacent to our Creation Station, we have added another weekly program we call Brain Builders. Kids are immersing themselves in “maker” activities that demonstrate the power of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) by programming robots, extracting DNA from fruit, designing bridges, and other interactive hands-on experimentation.
In addition to these programs, we offer summer camps for school-aged children that focus on robotics and engineering, art and music. Our Robotics and LEGO Maker camps sell out ever summer. We also continue to develop community-based special events, like our Free Family Kite Festival, which was offered free to over 2,000 families at Rotary Centennial Park in April, and our Nat Fast Children’s Arts Day, which is also free to the public and this year attracted over 900 people, mostly from the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, and our R.H. Tesene Family Day at the Ranch. These “free admission” events reduce barriers to museum access and participation for as many children and families as possible.
In the last four years, the museum leadership spearheaded a comprehensive revitalization effort that has led to the cultivation and installment of a highly capable, multifaceted Board of Directors and museum staff. Together with our funders and other supporters, the group has successfully restructured museum operations; grown museum memberships, field trips, and overall admissions; and developed, designed, and installed a collection of modern, hands-on exhibits geared toward teaching 21st century skills to our community’s children and their families. We have expanded to an annual visitor rate of over 26,000 guests in 2015 to over 32,000 last year. School field trips from Santa Barbara County make up approximately 20% of our visitor-ship annually and youth-focused social service agencies accounted for nearly 2000 adults and children in 2016-2017. This dramatic increase in admission is the best possible metric of our success in growing our footprint in the community.
In the coming year we will be partnering with Allan Hancock College and the Santa Maria Public Library on a community makerspace initiative, with a permanent hands-on makerspace at the Discovery Museum. We are also working in partnership with the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Vandenberg Launch Experience exhibit and received CREF Funding for an outside marine-themed exhibit planned for installation in 2018.
The Discovery Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving schools, families and youth groups from all over the Central Coast of California.