Discovery World celebrated 15 years along the lakefront of Milwaukee, and the museum’s success as an institution of scientific education to have continued its mission during the pandemic, at its annual gala fundraising benefit on November 13.

Attendees of the 2021 Discovery World Gala followed health and safety protocols that required them to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, or proof of a negative test within 72 hours. The festive evening saw a sold out crowd return to the signature party, after the annual in-person event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The gala is normally held in July, but there was not enough time to schedule it this year once the COVID vaccine began wider distribution.

“Discovery World is honored to celebrate the importance of science alongside our friends and supporters,” said Bryan Wunar, Discovery World President and CEO. “Without such a dedicated community we would not be able to fulfill our mission of inspiring STEM learning, curiosity, and career readiness within children throughout Milwaukee and Wisconsin.”

The gala took place at an exciting time for Discover World, especially at as the museum begins its next phase of strategic planning. The funding received during the November 13 event will have a direct impact on the institution’s restart in 2022.

“This is our one big fundraising night of the year. If we miss this night, we definitely miss a chance to make hundreds of thousands that we cannot get in other ways. To hold the gala, and to have the community still want to come down and join us, is a really big deal for Discover World. It allows us to have some sense of normalcy by hosting such a special gathering,” said Paul Fladten, Senior Manager of Public Relations. “While November is not exactly July it is our chance to have our supporters, who have stood by us through everything, come together and celebrate with us.”

As as public organization, Discovery World does not receive any public funding. When the pandemic first hit, the nation shut down and began a long period of self-isolation to stop the spread of the virus. For the center of education, Discover World could not hold in-person events. The revenue from ticket sales and memberships dropped. But through resourcefulness, Discover World was able to develop alternative ways to fulfill its mission. This past summer, it saw a 90% fill rate for the science summer camp, along with the feeling that the worst was over.

“One of the things that we did right away was to make a transition. We realized that we were not going to be able to fulfill our mission of having students come in and learn STEM. So we transitioned to a virtual learning model,” said Fladten. “We were able to connect with almost 80,000 students in virtual field trips. So while the kids were not coming in for a certain amount of time, we were coming to them. It really felt like the Discovery World that we wanted to evolve into for a long time had finally come about.”

The museum had wanted to transition to more digital teaching programs for a long time. The thought was that such programs would happened on site. But the pandemic showed how much learning could still take place outside the building. It also reinforced the need for science, and why the field of study was more important than ever. Discovery World was founded in 1984 to help people understand why science is so vital to their lives, and the community.

“As a science center, we have always wanted the ability to really reach out virtually. Necessity gave us the opportunity to do so, and it was magnificent. Now we are at a point now where we are going to figure out what is the hybrid balance for Discover World, because we learned so much from adapting to the pandemic,” added Fladten. “We are constantly asking ourselves how we can increase science literacy around the community.”

The site where Discovery World was built in 2006 had originally been planned for a charter high school. That idea never came to fruition. But now, Discovery World is reaching more students than a single school could have, and its educational team continues working to reach higher capacity and growth.