Julie Bryan is the Executive Director of Spark! Imagination and Science Center. In the following interview with Eliza Newland, she shares information about Spark’s mission, history, and current activities.

This interview is the third in a series of interviews featuring members of Mountaineer Country Museums, an organization based in Morgantown with a mission to support, promote, and develop local historic sites and museums, and to increase community awareness of their value. Members meet every other month and talk about issues and events within the local arts and history communities. If you are interested in joining us, please email at e.s.newland@gmail.com.

Hi, Julie! Tell me a little bit about Spark! Imagination and Science Center.

Spark is a children’s museum and science center that inspires people of all ages to explore science and the arts through interactive exhibits and programs that spark a lifelong love of learning. When families visit Spark, they enjoy exploring Space Weather and Nanoscience, putting together a large dinosaur fossil puzzle, building a ball ramp, playing dress-up and so much more. All of our exhibits are hands-on and interactive and great for kids 6 months to 10 years old and their grown-ups.

For older kids and adults we have great special events and programs throughout the year. Our annual special events include: Science Day, Space Day, Robotics Day, Nano Day, Healthy Saturdays and Healthy Teeth Saturdays. We also have a number of Maker Programs throughout the year, where adults and children have the opportunity to bring art and engineering together to create amazing things. For example, a participant in a Paper Circuits program may draw a birthday cake on a card and use LEDs, copper tape and a battery to “light” the candles on the cake.

We also offer field trips for schools to Spark and, through our outreach programs, go out into schools, libraries and community centers. We have been as far as McDowell County!

Spark is accessible to families of all physical abilities. Many children have used the museum for therapy sessions. Because of this, Spark offers free admission to children during therapy with West Virginia Birth to 3. The enriching environment is an exciting place for them to practice climbing, walking and socializing with other children.

What about you?

I grew up in upstate New York and then moved to Scottsdale, AZ when I was 12. That led me to doing my undergrad at the University of Arizona. While there, I had the great opportunity to take a class in which we gave tours to school kids at the university museum. After that I was hooked on museum work, specifically museum education. I love creating learning opportunities for children and adults to explore in an informal setting. After U of A, my husband and I lived in Wisconsin, Maryland and Delaware until he landed a tenure track position at WVU in the Physics and Astronomy department. I am so glad to be in West Virginia. It’s natural beauty and friendly people are like no other place we lived.

Why did you get involved with Spark! Imagination and Science Center?

After working and volunteering in many different types of museums including a natural history museum, children’s museum, county historical museum, veteran’s museum and state history museum, I had stepped away from museum work for a short period of time and was missing it. I saw an ad in the DA that people were trying to start a children’s museum and looking for board members. I became a board member first, and when I learned that the organization was ready to hire their first employee, I quit the board and applied for the position. I truly believe that museums can change the world and I love that Spark gets kids and adults excited about science and art through fun and interactive learning.

What do you see as Spark! Imagination and Science Center’s role in Morgantown?

First and foremost, we are a place where a child and their caregiver can spend quality time together in a fun, safe and educational environment. We also know that technology careers are the future and we are preparing kids for those careers by getting them interested in science and engineering while teaching them fundamental science concepts. Spark can also become a draw for people to the area. When employers are recruiting new employees (or trying to keep them here), the potential employees are always concerned about what the community can offer their children or future children. Having a science center and children museum is becoming more and more important to these families. As we grow, employers will be able to point to Spark as a reason to move to Morgantown.

When is Spark! Imagination and Science Center open to the public?

We are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm. Everyone is welcome. Our admission fee is $6 per child, $2 per adult and children under 12 months are free. We are the only “Museums for All” facility in West Virginia, which means that anyone with an EBT or WIC card can visit the museum free of charge. We are also a Blue Star Museum, so from Memorial Day through Labor Day, active military and 5 of their family members can visit the museum for free.

Does Spark! Imagination and Science Center have any special events or fundraisers?

We hold a huge number of events throughout the year. You can visit our website at sparkwv.org or our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sparkwv to learn more.

Our next big event is our Harry Potter Birthday Party on July 29 from 10-1. We are all big Harry Potter fans here and are extremely excited to be working on this event. We will have a Museum of Muggle artifacts, wand making, magical science experiments and other fun activities.

Our annual fundraiser is West Virginia Bites and Brews, which we always hold in April. We have sold out each year, so keep an eye out for information on ticket sales to be sure you don’t miss out.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about Spark! Imagination and Science Center?

Spark! Imagination and Science Center is a non-profit organization. Admission cost does not cover the cost of running the museum and grants rarely cover expenses such as salary, rent and insurance. We need the community’s financial support to continue to serve West Virginia and to continue our growth. To make a tax-deductible donation, you can visit sparkwv.org.

Spark could not do what it does without our wonderful Board of Directors. If you would like to learn more about becoming a board member, please email me at director@sparkwv.org. Together, we can make Spark! Imagination and Science Center the children’s museum and science center that northcentral West Virginia deserves.

 Thank you, Julie!