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‘Bright and beautiful:’ Visitors take in Omaha’s new Kiewit Luminarium

April 16, 2023

Article originally published by the Omaha World Herald author Luna Stephens. Photos by Anna Reed.

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On opening day, the bright and colorful interior of the Kiewit Luminarium served as a welcome contrast to the gray and gloomy weather in Omaha.


The Luminarium held an opening ceremony Saturday before welcoming its first guests to the 82,000-square-foot museum that’s packed with interactive exhibits.


The more than 120 exhibits combine the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math with art, music, identity and local culture. The museum’s location east of the CHI Health Center and near the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge offers up-close views of the Missouri River.


On Saturday, visitors taking in the museum for the first time could assemble electric circuits, see themselves through a heat map camera and learn about anatomy by watching the dissection of an eyeball. Timed-entry tickets helped to keep the exhibits from becoming too crowded.


Cydney Franklin watched as her almost 4-year-old daughter, Skye, interacted with an exhibit involving water and sand shortly after the museum officially opened its doors. Franklin, the president and CEO of local nonprofit Seventy Five North, is part of the Luminarium’s advisory group.


“It’s special, it’s incredibly cool,” she said of the Luminarium. “This is helping to transform this incredible part of our city, so I’m just happy to be a part of it.”


Zedeka Pointdexter said the Luminarium seemed like the perfect place to bring her 7-year-old daughter, Zoey, who is interested in sound and music.


“She’s just a curious kid,” Pointdexter said. “We haven’t gotten very far yet because there’s something to touch every 5 feet and I think that’s really wonderful.”


Pointdexter said she plans to visit regularly and said she appreciates that memberships are reasonably priced and that the museum also offers adult-only nights.


In each area of the museum, high school staff known as “Luminators” helped visitors interact with exhibits and explained the science behind them.


On opening day, Luminator Edgar Del Cid Lutin tinkered with an activity demonstrating chain reactions in the Dig Deeper exhibit.


Del Cid Lutin, a junior at Omaha South High School, said he’s interested in going into the computer science field and was excited when he learned of the opportunity to get involved at the Luminarium.


“The first day … I was so amazed and astonished at everything they offer here,” he said.


Before the museum opened its doors, leaders gathered outside to celebrate the culmination of the several years of planning, fundraising and construction that went into making the Luminarium a reality.


As she addressed the crowd at the opening ceremony, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert described the Luminarium as a “destination for everyone” and a sign of continued progress and development in the downtown area.


“Downtown Omaha is growing into a place of innovation, education, entertainment and entrepreneurship,” she said. “The momentum we have right now is unbelievable and undeniable.”


Luminarium CEO Silva Raker emphasized the teamwork and collaboration that went into creating the museum.


“This is something we’re making together,” Raker said. “This has been a team effort and it only succeeds if it continues to be so.”


The museum’s advisers and around 200 local individuals helped to shape the development of the Luminarium, Raker said. The museum now has a staff of around 100 people, including 40 full-time staff and 60 Luminators.


Mahatma Largaespada, a staff member at the Latino Center for the Midlands, said he thought the Luminarium leadership’s intentional efforts to engage local nonprofits in the development of the museum was something he hadn’t seen before.


While browsing the exhibits Saturday, Largaespada said he appreciated that displays were written in both Spanish and English and that the maker’s space on the first floor provides youths access to tools like 3-D printers that they may not otherwise get a chance to interact with.


“It’s nice to have an extra space where we can come and learn with things and tinker,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to have an interactive way of learning.”


Marc and Pam Anderson were browsing the Luminarium on opening day after being invited by their son, Jack, who is working as a Luminator.


Marc Anderson said he thinks the museum will become a destination for Omaha visitors in addition to existing attractions like the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium and the College World Series.


“This is very bright and beautiful and new and shiny, and it brings people downtown,” he said.