“Museums are about learning, not teaching. They’re not about tests, grades, or standards. We have our own standards, but they encourage a more organic way to learn in a way that sticks,” says Diane LaFollete, Executive Director of the award-winning Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Accountability and a range of perspectives are two core values that NorthStar has built our firm on. We not only aim to share our team’s knowledge, but the expertise of those in our field and in the breadth of industries and sectors we touch. Our expert this week is Diane LaFollette who took the time to discuss with us her journey to the Mid-America Science Museum, what it offers to the community of Hot Springs, and her take on the Museum’s 2014 and 2019 project processes.
After starting her professional life in a formal teaching position, LaFollette – a “natural born educator” – turned towards Museums to utilize her years of teaching experience and innate ability. We’d say that, through her 6+ years of work at the Mid-America Science Museum and 17+ years as Network Director and then Chief Operations Officer at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock, AR, she has surpassed the standards Museums hold. Her passion for the industry positioned her to help lead the Mid-America Science Museum’s 2014 renovation, one that garnered significant attention throughout the state, the country, and from the White House. In 2016, LaFollette stood side-by-side with First Lady Michelle Obama to receive one of only 10 medals awarded by the White House for community service, the highest award American institutions such as these can win.
WHAT MAKES FOR AN AWARD-WINNING MUSEUM?
Mid-America Science Museum
Built in 1979, the Mid-America Science Museum made its mark on the country as one of the few interactive science centers in America. After 40 years, the Museum is still heralded and treasured by many, from the 2 million+ visitors Hot Spring, AR welcomes each year, to its 35,000 permanent residents. From her years of supporting the Museum and the surrounding community, LaFollette sees that the “love, legacy, and devotion to the Museum is palpable”. As the state’s largest tourist destination, it’s hard to argue with that.
The adoration of the Museum led to the support of their new foray – a complete renovation of the space and its exhibits in 2014. By support, we mean $7.8 million worth of grant money to fund the project, which gave rise to 100 new exhibits.
The Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk is the stand-out and most revered addition to the Museum. Starting from the Museum building, the bridge spans 230 feet into the surrounding 21-acre woods, and towers above the ground at a height of 32 feet. It has garnered an incredible amount of attention and notoriety, including prestige from the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) who awarded the project the People’s Choice & Member’s Choice Award.
The Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk – Dero Sanford
A Strong Mission and Clear Methodology
The Mid-America Science Museum’s mission is clear; they aim to, chiefly, “stimulate interest in science, to promote public understanding of the sciences”. As LaFollette aptly puts it: “The foundation of education underneath. We don’t [create exhibits] just because they’re pretty or fun. We placed exhibits on the floor for a purpose.” Beyond the immediate benefit that the Museum has on its visitors, it acts as a critical entry point into the STEM-based workforce pipeline.
AN OWNER’S REP’S VALUE
From her integral role in the Museum’s projects, LaFollette realized three key practices which Owner’s Reps do and can implement that makes our project involvement important:
- Clear communication: refraining from using industry jargon to help our clients understand the process clearly.
- Open communication: encouraging the client to ask questions about any aspects of the process.
- Listening and respecting the client’s needs: giving the client a voice at the table.