Volunteers and stalwart supporters have worked behind the scenes for some two decades to bring Santa Barbara County MOXI: The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. Now they’re reaching out to the community at large to wrap up construction of the museum and its programs, and propel the venture into the future.
“It’s a fantastic project,” MOXI president and CEO Steve Hinkley told Noozhawk. “Science museums aren’t built every day, particularly in Santa Barbara, which has such a small amount of building. It’s very rare.
“We feel very fortunate that Santa Barbara is recognizing the importance of science in this way.”
When it opens later this year on Lower State Street, visitors will experience a 21st-century museum dedicated to igniting learning through innovative, interactive experiences that spark a lasting passion for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.
The $25 million capital campaign ran underground until March 11, when the museum began reaching out to the community to raise the final $4 million. Funds will cover construction, exhibits and an endowment that will help maintain the museum and its outreach programs.
“We’re located right next to the train station, so that gives families from all over the county, and up and down the state, an opportunity to take the train along a cool stretch of the coast to see us,” Hinkley said.
Although its location at 125 State St. makes the new museum accessible by car, train, bicycle and downtown shuttle, organizers are acutely aware that the museum is intended to serve people throughout Santa Barbara County, and that not every family will be able to make the trek to Santa Barbara. That’s where outreach programs will play a hand.
“We will develop strategies to get out and see them,” Hinkley said. “We aren’t of the mind that, ‘If we build it, they will come.’ Kids shouldn’t be deprived of things because of where they live, because they don’t have access to transportation.
“We’re a museum for exploration and innovation. If we’ve not gotten out to find those strategies, we’re not living up to ourselves.”
MOXI has already begun building relationships with Santa Barbara County school districts, private schools and youth programs including the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.
Hinkley said MOXI representatives are working to keep the buzz alive, and to spread the word about the project. They are prepared to talk at service organizations and businesses — anywhere supporters want to hear about the project.
“We want people to ask questions of us, to welcome us, to give their feedback and support,” he said.
The museum is also ready for an influx of volunteers at every level.
“We need help in every aspect at this point,” said Nancy Sheldon, third vice president of MOXI’s board of directors and co-chairwoman of the MOXI Capital Campaign with Alixe Mattingly.
“We love volunteers who want to come do anything from stuffing envelopes to testing exhibits. We would love people to get involved, help build excitement, tell their friends about it, build wonderful support through word of mouth, and, of course, contributions to help close the campaign.”
The museum is expected to employ more than 20 full- and part-time employees as well as a team of community volunteers. The museum’s interactive exhibits, designed by award-winning museum planning firm Gyroscope Inc., align with the national agenda to boost student achievement in math and science while also educating and entertaining community members of all ages.
“The progress has been phenomenal,” said Sheldon, a volunteer since 2008. “We’re getting it done, but to get to the finish line, we need support from the whole community.”
The project has run on a shoestring budget throughout its development. An executive director organized volunteers and a well-meaning board made up of people who often gave not only of their time, but their expertise as well as their own funding.
MOXI didn’t hire its first employee, Hinkley, until March 2015.
“The pivotal moment was when Noelle and Dick Wolf decided to name the building with a large gift,” Sheldon said. “We’d had other large donations, but the naming gift put us in a different space where there was no going back. It built a lot of confidence.”
Before the Wolfs, before there was anything, there were the risk takers who allowed the project to move ahead: Jillian and Pete Muller, Susan McMillan and Tom Kenny, Sarah Muzzy and large gifts from some of the board members.
“You need those early angels to get you to the place where people believe in the project,” Sheldon explained. “People got really excited and jumped on the board and made sure their commitment was strong and visible.”
Volunteers like Chris Kroes and Scott Hadley, Elizabeth and Lee Gabler, Holley and Jeff Jacobs, Lisa and George Hagerman, Anne and Michael Towbes, Irma and Morrie Jurkowitz, and Nancy and Mike Sheldon provided their stamps of approval on the project with cash donations or equivalent donations of their time.
“We have a very dedicated, very hard-working board,” said Kroes, board first vice president and chairman of the building committee. “Everyone has their part to play, and everyone is going in the same direction. It’s really quite an honor to be working with these people.”
Santa Barbara-based companies with ties to technology, science, engineering, math and the arts have also jumped on board with donations of funding as well as expertise and materials for interactive exhibits. The partnerships are expected to continue well into the future with special programs, hands-on demonstrations, mentorships and other programs that will form a tighter bond between the STEM and the arts industries and employees of the future.
“We have met some really fascinating people along the way,” Sheldon said.
Among those is Vicki Chen, wireless research engineer at SONOS.
Chen was raised in Taiwan where, she said, society directed girls to medical fields and boys into engineering fields.
“Medical didn’t sit well with me,” she said. “I found engineering more interesting. I never got intimidated by what people expected of me. I can see that some people feel that way, but it’s really how you feel about your field, about what interests you, and going for your interests.”
Hinkley said MOXI’s founders hope connecting people in the community with scientists like Chen will help inspire a new generation of innovators.
“We want to take the level of scientific discussion up a notch,” he said. “We want it to be a social thing. MOXI isn’t just there to talk to people about science, but to be a social experience.”
MOXI supporters across the board expressed an interest in helping museum visitors interact directly with industry leaders and innovators like Chen.
“There’s this concept of community that puts home first, work second, then this nebulous third place that people are seeking,” Hinkley said. “We want to be that third place for the community where they’ll think of when they’re looking for something fun to do and someplace to hang out.”
Although the lion’s share of the $25 million capital campaign has already been donated, $4 million in fundraising remains.
“Oh my gosh! No amount is too small,” Sheldon said. “Every dollar helps. We’d be grateful if people would open their wallets. It’s all exceedingly meaningful.”
Recognition is available at various funding levels. Individuals, businesses and organizations that donate $100 are represented on the MOXI website. Donors who give $1,000 will be recognized in the museum.
Donors who provide $10,000 could find their names on exhibits, while any gift of $20,000 or more provides the donor an opportunity to sponsor an exhibit or an entire area.