Museum Engages More Visitors, More Personally
By Mark Luedtke
2011 was a busy year at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, one of the premier interactive museums of nature and natural history in the world. Sound boring? It’s not. Colorful and engaging, Boonshoft has about as much in common with the static natural history museums of the author’s childhood as an iPhone has with a cup and string. Odyssey the Otter greets visitors outside the door, signaling they will have fun inside. Inside, the museum is part exhibition, part study environment and part playhouse.
Odyssey is modeled after the otters exhibited in the museum’s zoo, accredited in 2011. A romp of playful otters entertains children and adults all day. Despite the small area used, the zoo has a surprising number of exhibits and, unlike other zoos, compatible animals are grouped together in the same display areas. Visitors have to observe and think to identify different species, and the interactions of the species make for a more interesting dynamic than a normal zoo.
The Sun Room opened in spring of 2011 and features live images of the sun taken with the heliostat mounted on the museum’s roof. The Sun Room also contains a cloud chamber, which illustrates how cosmic rays seed clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere. It also offers numerous interactive stations that allow visitors to identify subjects they want to know more about and then study them on the spot. Enhancing these self-directed learning stations is a focus of all the upgrades at Boonshoft.
Museum personnel also upgraded the Tree House, an indoor/outdoor exhibit overlooking the woods on the grounds. Staff added heating and air conditioning to the quiet overlook, and they are installing interactive stations for visitors to engage.
The museum added another permanent exhibit called Splash, which teaches visitors about water resources and use in the Miami Valley. The NOAA-funded Science on a Sphere is new too. Explorer’s Crossing added Cassano’s pizza kitchen, a deli and a grocery to teach fractions, money and business.
The museum also added an accredited preschool. Diane Farrell, Vice President of External Relations, wishes her children had had such a cool opportunity, “It is incredible! I would have given anything for my children to attend school each day with access to the assets of the museum. The preschool offers a truly unique learning environment that is designed to meet the special needs of children ages 3 to 6. With a strong emphasis on science, art and practical life skills, the preschool program offers a supportive structure that includes access to the tools children need to develop a healthy curiosity, as well as the skills to explore topics that pique their interest.”
This hard work paid off. The museum set records for attendance and revenue last year. And not just for children. Farrell reports, “The museum saw an increase in the adult to child ratio in attendance, and a corresponding 19% increase in revenue from paid admissions. This may be most attributable to the number of families who visit together, as well as the introduction of exhibits that appeal to adults. Exhibits such as Science On a Sphere, the Sun Room, and even the Discovery Zoo have proved to hold multi-generational appeal, capturing the interest of visitors of all ages.” Maybe Hops over the Moon and The Science of Wine helped too.
The upgrades continue in 2012. Public relations coordinator Kristy Creel announces, “As it enters its third decade, the Caryl D. Philips Space Theater at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is getting an infusion of new technology. Tentatively scheduled to open President’s Day weekend, ‘The Dome’ will expand traditional Planetarium and Laser Light Shows to include both full dome films and 3D educational movies.”
Boonshoft is the first institution to implement this new technology. “The 3D technology of the Christie projector is what makes this installation unique. This projection system uses a set of projectors that runs video at twice the normal frame rate, interweaving left and right eye
imagery. Known as “Active Stereo,” this method requires high-end 3D glasses with LCD shutters that blank one eye at a time, with refresh rates up to 120 Hz.” Glasses will be supplied.
Several tantalizing titles are coming soon. “Among the first films to show, Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure is a 40-minute journey to Earth’s prehistoric oceans from National Geographic Cinema. Visitors will follow two Dolichorhynchops, or Dollies, through this realm as they encounter an assortment of strange and ferocious creatures that fought for survival under the seas that once covered North America. Other initial films will include: Secret Lives of Stars, Seven Wonders, One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure, and SpacePark360.” There will be a small additional fee charged for movies.
In addition NASA is funding a new exhibit for 2012 called Exo-planet Exploration. The museum will upgrade the Court House, Animal Hospital, and Recycling Center. The traveling exhibition Math Midway begins on Feb. 4.
For those considering joining Boonshoft, Farrell points out another advantage, “There are only 12 institutions in the country that maintain our same accreditations. That gives our members amazing reciprocal privileges. In essence, our members receive not only free admission to Boonshoft, Sunwatch Village and Fort Ancient, but free or reduced admission to hundreds of zoos, aquariums, science centers, children’s museums, and learning facilities around the world.” And Boonshoft is a lot of fun. Visit boonshoftmuseum.org for more information.
Reach freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.