Hands On! Discovery Center sees significant growth since moving to Gray

Johnson City Press • Mar 30, 2019 at 9:59 PM

When Hands On! Museum opened its doors in downtown Johnson City in 1987, it was a marvel for children throughout the community as well as an attraction for tourists.

Now, 32 years later, thousands of kids and adults have walked through those doors to learn and discover through interactive exhibits that change regularly. Last year, the museum made a significant change with its move to East Tennessee State University’s property at the Gray Fossil Site and Natural Museum off Tennessee Highway 75 near Daniel Boone High School.

With the new location and partnership also came a new name — Hands On! Discovery Center — as well as other changes.

“There have been so many positive changes, but the biggest is our audience,”  Andy Marquart, president and CEO of the Hands On! Discovery Center and Gray Fossil Site, said recently. “We are truly an all-ages experience now, and we have transformed our experiences to engage more people and in a more meaningful way. In our old location, we were not only limited in our content and experiences, but also in the number of people we could serve.”

Marquart told the Press that since Hands On! opened at the Gray Fossil Site on June 1, 2018, there has been a “40 percent increase in overall attendance, a 54 percent increase in group visits and a 78 percent increase in membership sales. We have had visitors from 49 states and several other countries. 

“On our busiest days, we have over 600 visitors. We have found that people will spend upward of three hours here when they really take it all in. The partnership with East Tennessee State University and the Center for Excellence in Paleontology has set us apart from many other museums in the country. You can visit many science centers and fossil dig sites, but it's extremely rare to combine both into one inclusive experience.”

The move to Gray more than doubled the exhibit space.

Fast Facts:

•      70,000 visitors each year from nearly all 50 states and several foreign countries.
•      Provides 100,000 programs in the arts, sciences and humanities.
•      Selected by readers of Marquee Magazine as the best museum in the region.

According to the facility’s website, the center “offers fun interactive experiences that include immersive exhibits like a musical Tesla coil, giant building blocks, a 3-story Paleo Tower, an art studio and much more.

“Guests are invited to engineer a rocket, build a wind-powered car, create an artistic masterpiece and discover something new. Visit an active fossil dig site dating back 5 million years and enjoy exhibits and programs featuring the plant and animal fossils that have been unearthed at the Gray Fossil Site, including a 10-ton mastodon.”

For more information about Hands On! Discovery Center, go to  www.visithandson.org, call 423-434-4263 or visit the museum at 1212 Suncrest Drive, Gray.