CDM Receives $1 Million for Natural Science Gallery Renovation

CDM Receives $1 Million for Natural Science Gallery Renovation

Published On:
Mackenzie Steele

Creative Discovery Museum’s (CDM) Ignite Discovery: Creating the new CDM capital campaign has been awarded $750,000 in funding from the Care Foundation of America and $250,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The grants will fund UnEarthed, an indoor/outdoor natural science gallery for children and families and complementary educational programming. Construction is tentatively set to begin in the fall of 2022.  

CDM’s current natural science exhibit, Excavation Station, is one of the most popular in the Museum but has experienced a great deal of wear and tear since its last renovation in 2005. The exhibit has undergone one renovation since opening in 1995, but the majority of the exhibit has remained unchanged. UnEarthed will transform the current gallery into an accessible, immersive environment that will  include subject content in geology, volcanology seismology, erosion, and entomology. UnEarthed will be the first and only exhibit in Chattanooga that focuses primarily on geology and the earth sciences.

“We are thrilled that the Care Foundation of America saw the need for the experiences and educational opportunities UnEarthed will provide for children, families and educators from Chattanoooga and beyond,” said CDM President and CEO, Henry Schulson. “UnEarthed will be a one-of-a-kind exhibit in our area with unlimited opportunities to explore weather events, fossils, and my favorite, bugs!”  

Indoor Gallery Components

The ever popular T-Rex will greet visitors at the entrance to the gallery   and the Dinosaur Dig will continue to provide sensory experiences for children as they unearth the fossil remains of dinosaurs. However, the renovation will make this space accessible to all, including guests who are in wheelchairs, have limited mobility and those with sensory issues.

At the Erosion Table, guests will manipulate models of natural objects, such as trees and grass, and human-made objects, like buildings and bridges, to observe how their placement around a river or stream impacts erosion.

Walk inside a cross section of a volcano and see, hear, smell and feel the inner workings of a volcano. A seismometer outside the volcano will register the earthquake that occurs at regular intervals inside the volcano.

At the Build a Bug table, guests will use fabricated insect parts (head, thorax, abdomen, legs, wings, and stingers) to create an imaginary or familiar insect. The science of entomology is presented with tools of the trade illustrated and the importance of the insects to the environment.

Guests will build a structure using fabricated parts and then test the structure’s ability to withstand a magnitude 7 earthquake or hurricane/tornado force winds at the Shake and Wind Table.

Outdoor Gallery Components

The exhibit will expand into a section of  the staff parking lot to create a unique indoor/outdoor gallery space. Visitors will:

  • Make fossils by using large stamps to create imprints of footprints, tail drags, eggs in nests, leg bones and more in the Dry Area.
  • Hop on rocks that progressively get smaller and smoother the farther they get away from the base of the volcano.  
  • Experience different types of soil and mix it with water in the Mud Play space. Children and families can work together to build things with mud, sticks, rocks and other natural materials.  
  • l Observe and experience how decomposers, such as pill bugs and earthworms, break down organic matter like leaves and logs to make soil.

Educational Content

CDM’s galleries are the wellspring for the Museum’s educational programming and outreach. CDM will utilize a portion of the grant funding to develop, pilot and launch UnEarthed programming both within the Museum and through our school outreach efforts that reach nearly 50,000 students annually across the region. The educational content will align with “Next Generation Science Standards” and includes outreach lessons, in-house school tours and exhibit-focused events.  

CDM is the leading expert in early childhood education for the region and provides professional development offerings to local early childhood educators that focus on incorporating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) learning in the classroom. With the upcoming renovation, CDM will be expanding professional development opportunities for elementary school teachers. CDM will create an UnEarthed professional development lesson for preschool through 5th grade teachers that  introduces geology and earth sciences lessons that utilize STEAM exploration and learning processes while making educational connections back to the exhibit.

"As pillars of our communities, libraries and museums bring people together by providing important programs, services, and collections. These institutions are trusted spaces where people can learn, explore and grow,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “IMLS is proud to support their initiatives through our grants as they educate and enhance their communities."

The Ignite Discovery capital campaign is funding comprehensive renovations of CDM’s 43,000 square foot facility, providing opportunities for children and families to explore, innovate, create and play for generations to come. The initiative is centered on three goals: to ensure CDM remains a leader in experiential learning, a gathering place for all children and a gateway to a vibrant downtown Chattanooga. To date, $121.5 million has been raised from a broad base including corporations, foundations, .community members and governmental entities.  

The first renovated exhibit, Tennessee RiverPlay, opened March 12, 2022. The second floor is currently under construction and set to reopen summer 2022. The new exhibits include STEMZone, made possible by Volkswagen, ARTspace and the Treehouse Adventure.

Ignite Discovery is chaired by Susu and Paul Brock and Leah and Jay Hill. For more information about Ignite Discovery, visit or contact Samantha Teter, CDM’s VP of Advancement, at (423) 648-6043.