Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert to Open This Month

CEO Cindy Burreson shares details on the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage.

May 2, 2024
Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert CEO Cindy Burreson poses inside the newly renovated space.
PHOTO BY BRANDON HARMAN

Founded by two teachers who understood the value of hands-on learning outside the classroom, the nonprofit Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert opened in Rancho Mirage in 1998 with the mission to “create a space where kids could come with families and interact together,” says CEO Cindy Burreson.

But even before the pandemic shutdown, the museum, which relies on donations, struggled to keep its doors open. To avoid indefinite closure, Burreson, a mom of two, went to the board with a plan: “Let’s take this time to fundraise and completely re-imagine the museum and bring the community a new place they can be proud of.”

The museum, which collaborated with design partner Hands On, reopens Memorial Day weekend, unveiling a $3 million refresh where kids 0 to 8 of all abilities can “imagine, express, move, experiment, explore, and dream.” Here, Burreson gives us an early peek.

You’ve collaborated with Visit Greater Palm Springs to help the Coachella Valley become a Certified Autism Destination. What does that mean?

We are now a Certified Autism Center, which means our exhibits have sensory guides for guests, and our entire staff has sensory-sensitivity training. A sensory room serves as a calming space where children who are feeling overwhelmed can find comfort. For the Coachella Valley to receive this designation, a certain threshold of different types of businesses need to become certified — and many have.

The museum relaunch includes 40 new exhibits. Can you share a few favorites?

Hedge Theatre, where guests can dress in costumes made exclusively for us and put on performances. A scarf-blower, where they can manipulate air to blast colorful scarves up 13-foot-high [pneumatic] tubes. A climbing net. A whimsical garden area and taco stand. The upstairs Dream space, where you can have tactile “mountain” experiences like fishing and camping. An 800-square-foot outdoor sandbox.

How were the museum’s original exhibits re-imagined?

We’ve updated fan favorites like our grocery store, now a farmers’ market. The pizza place is now an international restaurant where guests can learn about other cultures and cuisine. We still have tabletop science exhibits and a maker space, where staff offer guided experiences on things like how to hammer a nail.

How do these upgrades increase accessibility for guests?

Our revitalized trike track includes two adaptive bikes for those with physical disabilities. We want every child to feel welcome and represented. We’ve also installed automatic doors and will have a sign-language interpreter at story time.

What’s the next phase?

We want to appeal to kids older than 8. We’re seeking funding to add STEAM-based stations — 3D printing, life skills, public speaking — that help middle and high school age kids find different hobbies and career pathways. We want to spark interest in something they didn’t even realize they would love.