Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is back with a bang, with help from Facebook

A new exhibit funded by Facebook has arrived at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, just in time for the museum’s first reopening since late last year.

Mayor Mattie Parker was on hand Friday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the Current Science Studio, an interactive exhibit featuring a large sphere that can display real-time images of Earth using data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Like many organizations across Tarrant County, the museum has faced more than its fair share of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the February winter storm. Water from burst pipes and sprinklers flooded several areas of the property at 1600 Gendy St., and the Omni Theater and WaterWorks exhibit remain closed thanks to the damage.

The museum was forced to close last March, and after opening for limited hours in the fall, decided to shut down in December due to rising COVID-19 infection rates in North Texas. Parker praised the museum for finding creative ways to make it through a tough financial year.

“This is a testament to Fort Worth, and to our community,” Parker said. “Folks that have really given to this museum from the beginning stepped up in big ways ... They were also really smart in how they applied for federal grants and (Paycheck Protection Program) loans to make sure things could stay up and running, and then used those invested dollars to leverage for new opportunities.”

For the first time in more than six months, groups of kids crowded around their favorite exhibits, throwing scarves into an air tube and pushing grocery carts around the Children’s Museum. It was a welcome sight for Morgan Rehnberg, the museum’s chief scientist.

“We’re incredibly excited to welcome people back,” Rehnberg siad. “We’ve gone gallery by gallery through the museum and touched up or fully renovated each of our spaces, focusing on new information for adults, new hands-on activities for kids and overall just more to do within the museum.”

The grand reopening marked the close of an eventful month for the museum. On Thursday, staff welcomed VIP guests to view a long-term display dedicated to Opal Lee, the Fort Worth activist who was instrumental in the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Lee’s shoes and a photograph of her with President Joe Biden greet visitors shortly after they enter the museum.

Last week, museum members had the chance to get an early preview of the new 2,500-square-foot studio exhibit, supported by Facebook’s $255,000 grant. The social media giant operates a data center in Fort Worth and has followed up on its promise to be a community partner, Parker said.

During the pandemic, museum staff worked with Facebook to develop a gallery that could regularly shift its focus to different science topics earning attention from the news media, according to Rehnberg. On Friday, the exhibit featured a variety of holograms allowing visitors to learn more about space equipment and the solar system.

“It’s a wholly digital space where we can be talking about space exploration one day and vaccination the next day, and the science of hurricanes the day after that,” Rehnberg said. “We think it’s going to make the museum more responsive than ever to what’s happening in the world around us.”

And that’s not all the museum is focused on. Leaders are planning to renovate the Omni Theater, which shows IMAX films, and are launching a charter school program serving elementary-aged children this fall, according to The Fort Worth Report. The current museum school enrolls preschoolers.

“We feel confident in our ability to open and expand as we come out of the pandemic today and have the resources that we need to continue to do the awesome work that we get to do,” Rehnberg said.

The museum’s other offerings, including the Noble Planetarium and DinoLabs, also reopened on Friday. On the second floor, the Cattle Raisers Museum is back with a new exhibit of paintings, “Rural Women,” by the Oregon artist Gary Ernest Smith.

Families can head to the museum on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Exhibits will remain closed on Mondays through Thursdays.

Tickets for adults ranging from ages 12 to 62 are $16, while seniors can get in for $14 and children 2 and under receive free admission.