Founded in 1927 as the Arkansas Museum of Natural History and Antiquities in a downtown storefront, by 1997, the museum had been located in at least two other spots and had several different names. On February 21, 1998, it reopened as the Museum of Discovery in its new location in the recently launched River Market district. It occupied space on the first floor and basement of the Museum Center building (formerly the Terminal building the erstwhile train station which later was used for printing the Arkansas Democrat.)
The new name and new space reflected a greater emphasis on the science aspect of the museum’s mission. It featured many hands on and interactive exhibits.
The museum spent one-third of its $10.6 million cost on exhibits. Of the $10.2 million pledged for the museum, 47 percent — or about $4 million — came from a half-cent city sales tax approved by voters about five years ago. Another 14 percent came from foundations and 2 percent from private organizations and individuals. The remaining 37 percent came from corporations, sometimes in connection with specific exhibits.
Following a February 20, 1998, preview party, the official grand opening was held on February 21, 1998.
The previous museum space (inside the Arsenal building in MacArthur Park) occupied 14,000 square feet, 8,000 of which was display space. After the move, the museum had 35,000 square feet of display space.