Revamped Sloan Museum of Discovery Opens Doors to ‘More Loud Voices’, Inspiration for Math and Science, Enriched Local History
By Jan Worth-Nelson
Three years after an inauguration in which a host of dignitaries provided local opportunities to champion science and history, the promise came true this week. The new Sloan Museum of Discovery has opened its doors to the public after a dramatic $30 million makeover.
Funded by a combination of grants, millions of contributions from philanthropic institutions, public funding and individual donations, the renovation nearly doubled the size of the space, from 58,000 to 107,000 square feet and added four new galleries , cafe, full-service kitchen and expanded community spaces.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer topped the list of speakers during a ribbon cutting Thursday.
“It’s a great day for Flint,” Whitmer said to an audience of about 25o. “From hands-on experiences in science and engineering to a makerspace offering high-tech careers and skilled trades, this museum will inspire future innovators.”
She predicted that the Sloan will “support jobs, boost the local economy, and inspire future generations of Michiganders.”
“This expansion is another example that Flint — and Michigan — are on the move,” she said.
Whitmer was joined on the podium by Todd Slisher, CEO and Executive Director of the museum; Ridgway White, CEO and President of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Isaiah Oliver, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF); John Cherry, Sr., chairman of the board of trustees of the Flint Institute of Science and History; Philanthropist Phil Hagerman; Terry Rhadigan, vice president of global communications and corporate giving for General Motors; and others.
Thanks to the 2018 approval of a countywide arts mile that brings in approximately $1.8 million annually to Sloan/Longway as well as millions to other cultural institutions, Genesee County residents enter for free. Museum spokespersons pointed out that none of the mileage money went to renovations.
Additions include a new interactive science gallery, called Discovery Hall, with a multi-story “Spaceship Earth” and an interactive water table to teach visitors about the Great Lakes.
The museum also includes a new Vehicle City Gallery, renamed The Durant Gallery in honor of General Motors founder Billy C. Durant and, thanks to a $500,000 contribution from General Motors, supporting exhibits and STEM programs. This 11,000 square foot gallery will feature rotating vehicles from the Sloan’s collection of 105 rare and vintage vehicles. GM had already donated $1 million for the renovation effort.
An early childhood gallery, called Hagerman Street, acknowledging donations from the Flint’s Hagerman Foundation, aims to prepare children for kindergarten through “play-centered exploration.”
Finally, a new history gallery “features stories from Flint and Genesee County, as well as artifacts collected from the community.”
The goal of making the museum “an inclusive center for the whole community” underpinned much of the renovation overhaul. “This museum is literally built from the ideas of our members, our guests and the
community as a whole,” Slisher said. One of the many new features is a new community gallery “co-organized with local organizations on a rotating basis to present community exhibits.”
CFGF President Oliver highlighted these efforts by acknowledging “the Anishinaabe, Mississauga and Sauk people as the ancestral stewards of the land we stand on today. We honor the former past and present of Flint, Michigan who have cared for this place,” he said.
He said the new era of the museum offers “a more complete history. A deeper story. A story that cannot be rewritten. A story that is recognized.
“One of the primary goals of our work on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation is to end the hierarchy of human values,” Oliver said. He said as viewers toured the new exhibits: “You will see new voices being raised. Affirming voices with stories that are often overlooked. And a new exhibit focuses on our true historical roots among the Native Americans who created pathways before us.
He said some of the changes to the museum reflect a broader, nationwide attempt to tell more accurate stories “about Native American life in exhibits, museums and historical markers.” And it’s a settling of accounts with the truth that will take time,” he said.
According to curator of Sloan’s collections, Geoff Woodcox, the museum has 47,511 three-dimensional artifacts, 34,391 photos; 5,179 pounds; 62,562 archival documents.
The first Sloan Museum opened in 1966 as the Sloan Panorama of Transportation, named after longtime General Motors chairman Alfred P. Sloan. Today it is supported in part by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Michigan Council for Arts and Culture. Its programs are additionally funded by the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Mile, adopted by county residents in 2018.
During years of renovation, the museum and staff moved into rented space at the Courtland Center Mall. This closed in May after three years to allow for the return to the new space.
The museum opens at 10 a.m. Saturday and noon Sunday to the public. It is part of the Flint Cultural Center campus, at 1221 E. Kearsley St., Flint. More information available at 810-237-3450, www.sloanmuseum.org.
Banner photo by Tom Travis
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at [email protected]