Unpacking Bellingham’s Treasure Chest

Today, the Spark Museum is enjoyed by thousands of visitors of all ages, from all walks of life, from all over the world—and we’ve learned they all want the same thing.

Everyone wants to have a fun experience with science.

At SPARK, we think that is a great place to start. Our goal has always been to get everyone excited about science and the process of invention.

The Warehouse from “Raider’s of The Lost Ark” comes to mind when imagining the early stages of the SPARK Museum on Bay St.

That was our goal twenty years ago when SPARK began as a huge 100-year-old building in the middle of downtown, packed to the ceiling with hundreds of crates, boxes and who knows what, from all over the world.

No interactive galleries, no Mighty MegaZapper Electrical Show, no SPARK Science Education Program, no Activities Center, no staff, no membership, no visitor experience. Nothing but three floors stuffed with boxes and funny contraptions waiting to be unpacked and allowed to breathe.

It looked like Santa’s workshop just before the elves put wrapping paper on everything. And that is what it felt like, our first day of volunteering in this mysterious, new museum.

Like Christmas.

“We like to think of it as Bellingham’s treasure chest,” says Jon Winter, SPARK’s Museum co-founder.

A treasure chest indeed, containing one of the largest, most complete collections of original scientific instruments and artifacts in the world. Together, these priceless objects tell the complete story of electrical invention, and trace the very beginning of scientific methods, or in other words, how to think like a scientist.

We think that is a great story, the history of experimental science, the story of how we know what we know.

SPARK’s “Visitor’s Guide” which outlines all of the interactives, rare items, and demonstration areas in the Museum

So how do we tell this amazing story? How do we unpack and display this unmatched collection so everyone can appreciate it? Not just scholars and scientists, but regular folks curious about this unopened treasure chest.

That is our challenge, to create an experience that is relatable and enjoyable for everyone, and the best way to meet that challenge, was by taking one step at a time.

We have done a lot of unpacking over the last 20 years, and taken major steps in making SPARK the museum our founders always envisioned, and the institution we were always meant to be.

The first step was liberating major portions of the collection, and creating the Museum’s seven interactive galleries, highlighting hundreds of breathtaking artifacts, all highlighted on our easy access, color-coded Gallery Visitor Guide.

“It’s great to be able to see an authentic 1929 RCA theremin,” says Charlie Bryan, visitor engagement Manager. “But it’s even better if you can actually play one, too.”

The next step was creating a signature presentation, something spectacular, something visitors could not see anywhere else:

Some happy students after a SPARK Education workshop in our Activity Center – soon to be renovated into Wonderlab!

The Mighty MegaZapper Electrical Show just celebrated its 11th anniversary, and remains a top family attraction, drawing thousands of visitors annually, from all over the world.

Another big step was launching our SPARK Science Education Program, where we have the privilege of turning-on and amping-up thousands of students, from all over Washington State. “If you give a kid one shot at science,” says Jenkins. “We think it’s hard to beat 90 minutes of SPARK Science.”

Today, we are taking the next big step in addressing the needs of our growing community, and making SPARK the kind of museum experience our founders had always intended.

Introducing, our next step in interactive science education:

Wonderlab!

Concept drawing of Wonderlab

“At SPARK we want to share the process of invention,” says Abby Whatley, director of programs. “What it feels like to think like a scientist and discover something on your own.”

Wonderlab will be a 3,000 square ft. area dedicated exclusively to hands-on exploration, discovery, and fun. “We want to create an environment where kids can make science discoveries on their own,” says Whatley. “We want a place where children and families can have an immersive experience where everything is interactive.”

“Wonderlab is something our visitors—especially younger visitors—have been wanting for a long time,” says Bryan. “A space that’s fully interactive and inviting for all ages.”

This is the time, this is the place, this is the opportunity to support interactive science education in our community, and help SPARK get the power of discovery into everyone’s hands.

To learn more about our capital campaign and how to take SPARK to the next level, here.

Stay grounded.