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Billings museum plans for future during pandemic

Posted at 10:49 AM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 12:49:38-05

BILLINGS - 2020 started off with a bang for Wise Wonders Science and Discovery Museum.

Settled in a new, larger location, it all seemed so promising. But then…

“It was silent. This space reverberates with laughter and play when the kids are in here and it was silent,” said Jennette Rasch, museum manager.

“It was heartbreaking. I’m not going to lie. We had our board, our staff, everyone had worked so hard to see this space grow,” said Pete Bolenbaugh, museum executive director.

They made the early decision to close alongside Billings Public Schools. And when one door closed, another opened.

“We had the opportunity to sort of limp along and try to do business as usual, or to shift gears and say well we know what we want to be a year from now, two years from now, so let’s start on that vision and start on that focus,” Bolenbaugh said.

The museum asked for community input and is sharing the plans on its website.

“You can actually interact with the pictures you see. There’s a nice 2-D picture there. You can click on it, and actually do a 360-degree revolution of what that space would look like, and if you have V-R capabilities either through goggles or the google cardboard glasses, you can actually set that so you can stand in the room and see the space as we envision it,” Bolenbaugh said

This new vision promises to have a little something for everyone.

“We’re big advocates of life-long learning, curiosity for the sake of curiosity. So, we’re really shifting our focus onto how do we expand our programming, retain those offerings for the younger age children, but expand into the science, into the technology,” Bolenbaugh said.

With so much focus on the future, the museum is keeping its promise to the present, by offering virtual home schooling, and interactive weekly challenges online.

“If you can have fun learning, you’re going to continue to want to do that. And so we are trying to build opportunities, of having kids and families and parents come in and engage in ways that, not only are they learning, but they’re having a great time, and wanting to engage more, and explore more,” Rasch said.

Although the year didn’t exactly begin on a high note, the museum hopes to end it on one.

The AJ Blain Foundation has offered a $50,000 matching gift through the end of 2020.

“I think there’s definitely hope on the horizon, and thankfully we have a great leader in Pete, who is good at his job, and has managed to keep us alive and thriving. And I can say thriving. We aren’t barely making it, but with the support of the community, and with the work that Pete has been doing along with our staff, we have managed to have a strong foundation to build on,” Rasch said.

A Billings native, Bolenbaugh sees a need for a museum like Wise Wonders in the community that’s not just an entertainment option, but much more.

“It’s important to have a trusted source of information, a trusted source of engagement, a place that you can come and learn, be curious, not be afraid to make mistakes, not be afraid to make a mess, and have a few people there to sort of guide you through that process,” he said.

More information on the museum’s virtual home school program, weekly challenges, the interactive tour, and the matching AJ Blain Foundation gift can be found by clicking here.