Anyah Martinez figures she needs about $10,000 and about 5,000 square feet of space.
Both would mean that the Denton Explorium could open its doors and bring Denton children face-to-face with science — playfully, if everything falls into place.
“When I drive around Denton, if I see a vacant space about that size, I try to find out who owns it and if they’d consider renting it,” said Martinez, a local mom behind the creation of the Denton Explorium. “I think the space might be a bigger challenge than the money, really.”
Late last year, Martinez and board members of the Explorium launched a crowdsourcing fundraiser for their dream. Martinez and board member Tara Mills said the city’s busy creative community is but one indication that there’s room for an organization — and a space — for children to learn about science, math and technology in Denton.
“I come from a science background,” Mills said. “I’m a science teacher. When I was a kid, my favorite place to go was the science museum. We had three days of ice [in December], and we were looking around for things to do. And we were at a loss.”
Mills is a member of a city advisory committee, and said the group is charged in part with dreaming about Denton’s future, and helping sitting leaders plan for the future while staying plugged in to local families, their tastes and their needs.
“We talk about what makes Denton Denton,” Mills said. “We ask ourselves a lot of questions. How do we retain graduates from the colleges here? We owe it to our future generations to be more family-focused in Denton. I mean, we’re on the right track, but we need to create a city that can keep families here.”
Mills and Martinez spoke highly of the Elm Fork Education Center at the University of North Texas.
“Elm Fork does a lot,” Martinez said. “What they do, they do very well. But they mostly coordinate field trips. They do some things on campus, too. I look at the Explorium as a major supplement to what they do, with a space that has regular, open hours and activities.”
Mills and Martinez also praised the Denton Public Library system, which offers science programming along with its literacy programs.
Martinez said between the city parks programs and programs of the Greater Denton Arts Council, Denton has a lot of engaging activities for a city its size. Unfortunately, Dallas and Fort Worth have bigger municipal and philanthropic coffers to create community spaces such as the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and the newcomer, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.
“The Children’s Art Tent at the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival is a good example of how children will enthusiastically try to create things,” Martinez said. “Yes, it’s the art tent, but there’s an awful lot of science in it, too. It’s really awesome. My kids love the tent. They love getting their hands on something and making something.”
When considering the millions required to build learning centers on college campuses and in urban centers, Martinez said the Explorium seems all the more possible. The fundraising goal of $10,000 would cover rent for an existing space with 4,000 to 5,000 square feet for displays and demonstrations.
“We’re not talking about starting some megalopolis, or building some huge thing,” she said. “We want a cool old building for a year.”
Martinez said the Explorium has already attracted some people who want to build exhibits. She also learned that a science museum in another city was relocating, and had some exhibits it could donate to the Denton group. By the end of November, some of the donated inventory was already in town.
“Children’s museums are notorious for helping each other out,” Mills said. “They aren’t competitive at all.”
The Explorium board isn’t short on ideas, Martinez said. The group would jump at the chance to create “a butterfly and bug garden,” for instance, she said. A garden expressly for children to work in is on the list of dreams, as are exhibits about grain production and local livestock. And like the Perot and Fort Worth science centers, a Denton Explorium would be interactive, using games and activities to help children learn about subjects like botany, architecture and physics.
“Children learn through play, absolutely,” Martinez said. “And children learn on different levels. If you do this well, you can have an exhibit that can teach different age groups.”
Once open, the Denton Explorium would be run by volunteers. The audience for the Explorium is children from preschool through middle school.
“Science museums are for all ages,” Mills said. “It’s fun even as an adult. You go to the children’s science museums, and you find the grown-ups participating, too.”
“Adults are going to places like the Perot in droves,” she said. “I bought a book about how to start a science center, and it talks about how informal adult science programming and education can be done under the umbrella of a children’s museum.”
Since the Explorium’s GoFundMe.com campaign was launched, it has raised more than $300. Mills and Martinez said they aren’t discouraged in the least.
“To get something done, it takes moms bouncing off the walls,” Mills said.
“Hey, I’ve got nothing but time,” Martinez said. “I’ve gotten a lot of ‘nos’ and a lot of nothing because a lot of people don’t call you back. But this is Denton. We can do this. Why not science? I’m not giving up.”
Explorium, mobile edition
The Denton Explorium applied for 501(c)3 status last February. Once granted by the state, the status will allow it to operate as a nonprofit entity exempt from taxes.
Last year, the Denton Explorium partnered with the Denton Community Market. Volunteers hosted exhibits during the Saturday markets. The exhibits included:
April — sensory tables
May — nature walk and seed planting
June — making homemade paper, modeling dough and bubbles
July — technology petting zoo with the Denton Public Library
August — puzzles
September — Lego and other construction activities
November — instrument petting zoo
Denton Explorium on the Web
GoFundMe campaign: www.gofundme.com/4skbaw