By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
Before going to lunch with Dianne Clark, the two of us met at Sci-Port Discovery Center so I could take a tour of the facility. Over the years, I had been to Sci-Port with my nieces and nephews and had taken some of my elementary school classes on field trips there. It was a different place back then, however. This is the NEW Sci-Port, and I was amazed at the transformation that has taken place since Clark took over as the executive director in August 2018. Almost an hour later, we went a few blocks away to enjoy an incredible lunch at Pepito XO, which popular Shreveport chef Pepito Munoz recently reopened in the Artspace building.
Just how daunting was the task ahead for the new executive director of Sci-Port Discovery Center?
By 2018, the outlook was bleak for the science center and children’s museum, which had been struggling financially. It was time for new management and in stepped the Community Foundation of North Louisiana, which backed a new nonprofit entity — Red River STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – that would take over the facility located in downtown Shreveport.
The long-time executive director left the organization, the facility would close for an upgrade and to get its finances in order and most of Sci-Port’s more than 70 employees were laid off. A new Board of Directors was formed whose first priority was to hire a new executive director.
When Dianne Clark took over as the new executive director in August 2018, she came into a completely closed facility that had lost its identity.
“It really didn’t have a purpose,” Clark says during our lunch at Pepito XO. “There were four or five employees who had been kept on. We were trying to maintain a few grants. We had to borrow $1,000 to open a bank account.”
The new board provided a vision for the facility, but everyone thought the project would take at least a year.
That’s what they thought.
“I brought in friends and family, and everybody got to it,” says Clark, who was born in North Carolina but moved to this area when her father – an Air Force pilot – transferred the family when Dianne was five-years-old. “We had a lot of community support.
“A group of Air Force officers volunteered – they painted, cleaned, and did electrical work. Inmates from the Caddo Correctional Center helped with landscaping. People were calling, asking, ‘How can we help?’”
With a lot of help – and Clark’s determination – results happened quicker than anyone expected. By October (less than three months), the first floor of Sci-Port reopened and the re-opening of the second floor was scheduled for a March 2019 opening.
Then the pandemic hit and the facility was shut down – the day after a gala to celebrate the re-opening.
Now, it’s time to celebrate again.
This morning, the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Goodman IMAX Dome to recognize the elected officials whose contributions have helped to make the revival of Sci-Port a possibility.
And on Jan. 21, 2023, a Gala will be held to recognize Sylvia Goodman and her family and to formally rename the theatre the Goodman IMAX Dome.
If you haven’t been to Sci-Port lately, spend an afternoon enjoying the re-imagined and restored facility. There is “Sno-Port” in the Changing Exhibition Gallery (until Jan. 29); “Adventures of Intrigue” (the center’s newest permanent exhibit that features Escape Room-style adventures); “PoP” Children’s Gallery; Health Zone Activity Area; Demonstration Theater (where you can learn about the weather while watching clouds, rain, lightning, tornadoes, and other weather phenomena form before your eyes); the Sawyer Space Dome Planetarium; and, of course, the Laser Digital IMAX Dome Theatre.
There is still work to be done, of course, but Sci-Port is on the right track with Clark – who brought a career of leadership to her role as the educational center’s executive director. After graduating from Haughton High School, getting her undergraduate degree at Northeast Louisiana University (now UL-M) and her MBA from LSUS, Clark wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
Her mother, who had started the nursing program at Minden’s Northwest Technical College, begged Dianne to apply when a position as a business instructor opened at the college.
“I only did it to make her happy,” says Clark. “They ended up offering me the job – and, 30 years later, I retired.”
During those 30 years, Clark was not only a business instructor but served as an assistant dean at the college, was dean at the system’s Mansfield campus and, for two years, was interim dean for all eight of its campuses.
It was when Clark was serving as president of the Board of Directors of Dress for Success that she was approached about becoming the new executive director at Sci-Port.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I took my kids there when they were little,” recalls Clark. “It just went from there. I didn’t hesitate. I felt like it was my next calling.”
Contact Harriet at firstname.lastname@example.org