Museum Planning, Science Center, Starting A New Museum

Science Pop

6 Comments 10 September 2013

Mobius Lab, Preview Science Center

Mobius Lab, Preview Science Center

A year ago we worked on a new science center in Indonesia. The project was on a very short schedule and we needed to use all “off the shelf exhibits” to meet the deadline.  As part of the project we created a database of quickly available exhibits.  Start to finish the Indonesian science center opened eight months, after I was first contacted.  The process got me thinking, “Why can’t we open lots of little science centers all over the world?”.  In Asia cites are popping up so quickly they are calling them “Cities in a Box”, why not “Science Centers in a Box”?

I am bothered by the “big box” science centers, $300 million dollar projects seem unnecessary.  You could build 100 smaller science centers for the same $300M budget.  My thinking behind Science Pop (science center in a box), has grown out of a need for community based science centers.  I receive an email a day from groups all over the world interested in starting small community based organizations without the resources to move forward.  There has been a dramatic shift in the world of science centers / children’s museums towards “Big Box” multi-million dollar organizations leaving smaller organizations behind.  To my thinking there is a greater impact to opening 100 small community based organizations world wide than one large destination based organization.  Below is an “elevator pitch”:

Science Pop

Let’s open 100 science centers worldwide.  Why can’t science centers be like a restaurant franchise?  A parent organization helps with site selection, then delivers a proven solution and continues to advise with oversight.  With a $20M (approximate) budget a foundation can be formed to create 100 tested proven educational facilities throughout the world.   Each science center would be self sustaining, with the core organization continuing to assure quality and adherence to science standards.

We receive many emails from people interested in opening a Science Center in developing countries.   These centers could be self sustaining but part of a core organization that assures quality with adherence to Science standards.  Since the Science-Pop (working title) development costs would be covered by the granting organization, the costs would be minimal: $250,000 start up and $70,000 per year operating (approximate).

We have found that trying to explain a science center is difficult.  It is much easier to build a “Preview Facility” and show people.

The next steps:

  • Create Advisory Board
  • Partners, Corporations; Non-Profits
  • Create request for business planning grant
  • Form 503(c)(3)
  • Start List of Locations / Organizations
  • Create Science Pop Prototype

What do you think?

Exhibition Design, Museum Planning, Science Center

Science Center Exhibition Design – Part I

4 Comments 02 December 2012

Science Center Exhibition Design – Part I

I have been enjoying writing in series.  So far, I have worked on Museum Exhibition Design, Museum Strategic Planning and Museum Trends (which has become it’s own website museumtrends.org) and now I would like to start a series about Science Center Exhibition Design.  In part, I was inspired by an article by By Edward Rothstein “The Thrill of Science, Tamed by Agendas” in the New York Times.  An excerpt from the article:

“A science museum is a kind of experiment. It demands the most elaborate equipment: Imax theaters, NASA space vehicles, collections of living creatures, digital planetarium projectors, fossilized bones. Into this mix are thrust tens of thousands of living human beings: children on holiday, weary or eager parents, devoted teachers, passionate aficionados and casual passers-by. And the experimenters watch, test, change, hoping….”

It is exactly this active visitor participation that got me first so excited about science centers in 1992 (when I started work at Liberty Science Center).  In the article Mr. Rothstein discusses several recent (the article was written in 2010) incarnations of new science centers.  What strikes me about the article and the examples is the sense of “experimentation” in Science Centers, each example is different in character and approach.  It is this sense of “experimentation” that is leading the museum field.   The blog series will explore how I see science centers leading the museum field.

Future posts in the “Science Center Exhibition Design” series will include; “A Definition of the Spectrum of Science Centers”, “A History of Science Centers”,”How Science Center Exhibition Design is Different”, “The Future of Science Centers” and the “The Future of Science Center Exhibition Design and Fabrication”.

Links to my previous exhibition design posts:
Part I, Museum Exhibition Design – Planning
Part II, Museum Exhibition Design – Design Phases
Part III Museum Exhibition Design – Fabrication
Part IV Museum Exhibition Design – Installation
Part V Museum Exhibition Design – Exhibition Maintenance
Traveling Exhibition Design
Science Center Exhibition Design

Link to the Largest Science Centers:
World’s Most Visited Science Centers

A listing of some of my favorite Science Centers (needs updating)

* Image by Museum Planning, LLC rendering of Trans Studio Science Center

Museum Governance, Science Center

Calif. Science Center Sued For Nixing Intelligent Design Film – Law Blog – WSJ

No Comments 31 December 2009

Calif. Science Center Sued For Nixing Intelligent Design Film – Law Blog – WSJ

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Museum Business Planning, Museum Governance, Science Center

Museum Director Files Law Suit

No Comments 01 December 2009

I love news articles like this, it gives you an insiders view of the museum world – Mark Walhimer

By T.J. Greaney
From the Columbia Tribune

Link to Article

“A former executive director of the YouZeum, Gwen Robbins, is suing the interactive science center, claiming breach of contract and defamation. In a petition filed this month in Boone County Circuit Court, Robbins claims the former chairman of the YouZeum board of directors, Glenn McElroy, violated the terms of Robbins’ termination agreement by saying she was forced to step down in October 2008 because of an inability to raise adequate funds.

Part of Robbins’ severance agreement stipulated neither side would make public comments about the termination other than to say Robbins had met with the board of directors and both sides agreed “a change in direction” was needed because of “difficult economic times,” according to the lawsuit.”

In a Nov. 6, 2008, Tribune article, McElroy was quoted as saying the termination stemmed from Robbins’ inability to attract large-money private donors. McElroy repeated the assertion in a radio interview.

Robbins, now doing volunteer work at Children’s House Montessori school, has been unable to find employment since her termination in October 2008. She claims the statements about her success at raising funds for the YouZeum are false, although no specific fundraising figures are listed in her petition.

“It has hurt her reputation as a fundraiser,” said Michael Byrne, attorney for Robbins. “She has been a very successful fundraiser throughout her career, and it is our contention that the statements made have made it more difficult to get a new job.”

The suit also alleges the YouZeum has not compensated Robbins for 173 hours of vacation pay valued at more than $6,000. At the time of her departure, Robbins’ salary was $72,600 a year, including a $10,000 raise she received in July 2007, the lawsuit says.

McElroy did not reply to a phone call yesterday.

The YouZeum opened in May 2008 at 608 Cherry St. after years of false starts and delays. It has endured multiple setbacks during the past year. Dan Fowler, hired in April as director of development to restart the museum’s fundraising effort, stepped down sometime this summer for unknown reasons.

Fowler’s departure came after the resignation in June of Kathryn Ward, assistant executive director, who had run most of the day-to-day operations. At its opening, the YouZeum had five full-time employees; now it has only two and has significantly cut its hours of operation.

The $8.5 million museum is housed in a former federal building, which it occupies at virtually no cost. The YouZeum received $750,000 in federal funding, $250,000 in state tax credits and $350,000 in local public funds.

At its opening, the museum’s projected viability relied heavily on a steady stream of visitors passing through the turnstiles. Leaders projected 60,000 visitors a year would tour the center. But even in the first few months after the ribbon-cutting, the YouZeum was able to attract only 1,500 or so per month.

McElroy and the YouZeum Inc. are listed as defendants in the suit.

Byrne said Robbins, 42, regretted the public nature of the suit but felt she had no other option.

“She hoped that this could have been resolved without the filing of a suit through the YouZeum making an apology and correcting the record in regards to her fundraising, but that has not occurred,” he said. “We felt there was no other option but to file suit.””

Science Center, Starting A New Museum

Museum of Science and History reopens Friday

No Comments 17 November 2009

From the Star-Telegram

“These and many other jaw-dropping interactive experiences await when the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History opens its doors Friday, marking the start of a new era in the museum’s history.

What began in 1945 as the Fort Worth Children’s Museum has evolved into a dazzling 166,000-square-foot, $80 million state-of-the-art complex that will thrill children and enable adults to find their inner child.”

Museum Architecture, Science Center

Connecticut Science Center Sues Its Architect

No Comments 09 November 2009

By JEFFREY B. COHEN
The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — – The Connecticut Science Center has filed suit against the world-renowned architectural firm that designed it, seeking at least $10 million and claiming that architects at Pelli Clarke Pelli designed an iconic roof that was “structurally unsound.”

Museum Architecture, Science Center

Connecticut Science Center by Pelli

No Comments 09 November 2009

by Michael J. Crosbie
Architecture Week

The Connecticut Science Center is a new architectural showpiece in the city of Hartford, Connecticut, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. The design expresses themes that have been part of Cesar Pelli’s oeuvre for many years: the importance of public space and its role in the city.

Science Center

New Adventure Science Center exhibit awaits exploration

No Comments 09 November 2009

By Nicole Young
THE TENNESSEAN

Middle Tennesseans are invited to take a walk through the stars, see sunspots and solar flares up close or challenge someone to a race through the cosmos this weekend at the Adventure Science Center’s new exhibit, opening today.

Interactive Exhibit Philosophy, Science Center

Follow up to an Open Letter

No Comments 03 November 2009

Photo and project posted to Make Projects by Sean Michael Ragan

By Mark Walhimer
Bangkok, Thailand

On Monday I posted an Open Letter about the creating an online database of Science Center exhibits.  The more I think about the issue the more I realize that there is already an existing model; Maker Projects.  I continue to believe the future of Science Centers is creating a Maker Faire like attitude.  Maker Projects is an online listing of projects, the projects are submitted to Make Magazine and the editors select the projects to post.  One thought would be to create a partnership with Make Magazine for the data base, it could be a win-win.

When we were working on the opening of Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California we visited approximately 15 other Science Centers to get ideas for the types of exhibits that we would like to include.  We then planned on contracting with a design firm to design the exhibits.  Most design firms charge 20% of the exhibits budget to design the exhibits.  After talking to several Directors of other recently opened Science Centers we realized that using the approach of hiring a design firm and paying 20% was no guarantee of success.  In fact many of the recently opened Centers had higher failure rates of exhibits with exhibition design firm exhibits than centers that bought “off the shelf exhibits” (exhibits built by other science centers).  We also realized that although our team visited 15 Science Centers most visitors don’t, so having the same exhibits as other Science Centers didn’t really matter.  Using a formula of 1/3 exhibits purchased from other science centers, 1/3 purchased from other science centers and modified and 1/3 unique to the science center.  We opened Discovery Science Center in 1998 at less than half the cost of other science centers and a much higher success rate.

I purpose that Make Magazine create a database of exhibit ideas edited by a group of science center experts.  The database will then be accessible to science teachers, museum professionals and hackers everywhere.  WIth an online freely accessible database, everyone can develop, design, build exhibits.  There will be a learning curve, but by opening up the entire process everyone wins.  With approximately 450 Science Centers world wide all can contribute and use the ideas from the database.

Why don’t we have standards in Science Centers?

In my opinion it is fear.  Although science centers say that we are trying to “demystify science”, we also believe that science is too complex for the general public and only certain people can really understand.  In 1997 Joe Ansel lead a session at ASTC called “Who’s Idea is it anyway” as far as I know the field of Science Centers has not moved forward on this issue one bit.  Thanks to Jim Spadaccini of Ideum we now have Exhibit Files as a data base to review exhibits.  But, as far as I know there is no freely accessible data base for exhibit ideas.  How is this possible?  In scientific research, you do your research, gather your information, write your bibliography (crediting your sources) and publish your research.  With the science community model, others can then build on your research and there is a trail of crediting your sources along the way.  Why doesn’t the Science Center community work in the same fashion?  Joe Ansel recommended this in 1997 and as far as I know there has been no movement in this area.

I know of several sources that are working towards the end of a freely shared data base

* Nina Simon of Museum 2.0
* Cheap Exhibit Ideas by Paul Orselli
* Exploratorium Cookbooks

But none of the sources offer a  Wikipedia style data base of exhibit ideas.

On Monday I posted an Open Letter about the creating an online database of Science Center exhibits.  The more I think about the issue the more I realize that there is already an existing model; Maker Projects.  I continue to believe the future of Science Centers is creating a Maker Faire like attitude.  Maker Projects is an online listing of projects, the projects are submitted to Make Magazine and the editors select the projects to post.  One thought would be to create a partnership with Make Magazine for the data base, it could be a win-win.

Museum Planning, Museum Resources, Science Center

An Open Letter

1 Comment 02 November 2009

By Mark Walhimer
Bangkok, Thailand

I am enjoying the clarity distance offers. It seems that from the other side of the world I have a better view of the condition of Science Centers in the United States. I have posted my predictions 2010, 2011, 2012.

Why don’t we have standards in Science Centers?

In 1997 Joe Ansel lead a session at ASTC called “Who’s Idea is it anyway” as far as I know the field of Science Centers has not moved forward on this issue one bit.  Thanks to Jim Spadaccini of Ideum we now have Exhibit Files as a data base to review exhibits.  But, as far as I know there is no freely accessible data base for exhibit ideas.  How is this possible?  In scientific research, you do your research, gather your information, write your bibliography (crediting your sources) and publish your research.  With the science community model, others can then build on your research and there is a trail of crediting your sources along the way.  Why doesn’t the Science Center community work in the same fashion?  Joe Ansel recommended this in 1997 and as far as I know there has been no movement in this area.

I know of several sources that are working towards the end of a freely shared data base

But none of the sources offer a  Wikipedia style data base of exhibit ideas.

I can think of two models to try.

  • Science teachers can go on line and resarch sample lesson plans for classes
  • ACM Siggraph has a standard format for submitting papers and posters, which are then published, Ken Sen keeps a database of all of the papers submitted.

I purpose that a group is formed and together with ASTC we write a proposal for funding of a freely accessible exhibit database similar to Exhibit Files.  Please post your thoughts and ideas.

Museumplanner

museumplanner.org is run by Mark Walhimer, Managing Partner of Museum Planning, LLC an exhibition design and museum planning company.

Mark is available for consultations. Feel free to contact him using our contact form.

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