Museums do more than present objects and information. No two museum visits are the same because of the people, including the staff members who greet you and the friends and family members sharing the experience.
The inside of our building buzzes daily with a community of learners, educators, partners, scientists and visitors. On Aug. 21, the Science Museum of Minnesota opened its three outdoor terraces and backyard along the majestic Mississippi River for a solar eclipse viewing celebration. Spectators of all ages filled every available inch. They could have watched the historic moment anywhere. We didn’t offer a better view, but we do hold a tradition of bringing together communities to appreciate the amazing wonders of our planet.
The impact of our mission extends far beyond this building. We deliver our educational outreach programs to all 87 counties in Minnesota and are an industry leader in designing exhibits for clients across the globe. As a commentator pointed out in “Can the Science Museum of Minnesota evolve?”(Sept. 18), it takes a clear vision and generous public support to rejuvenate an exhibit hall, especially one as sizable as our collection of dinosaurs and fossils.
In my first year as president, we’ve created a new leadership structure organized around a future-focused strategic plan. We are poised for growth and new collaborations by tackling the big issues of our time through scientific research and engaging educational programs.
This wasn’t the first time I took a career step to lead a museum with a dynamic vision. Twenty years ago, I left my role as a CFO of a multimillion-dollar corporation to oversee a renovation project at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. Attendance was declining, and the 12 Victorian-style buildings had no central focus. It wasn’t always the current eco-friendly, innovative design and breathtaking experiences bringing science to life that now blends into Golden Gate Park.
Through leading this project for my community’s most beloved treasure, I was able to understand museums in a deeper context. Museums invite us to see the familiar in unexpected ways. We then want to share those delightful moments with family and friends. The academy stayed focused on its vision during the many ups and downs of its immense renovation and rebuilding project. The goal was not simply to transform the physical space but to change the way we worked for our guests, community and the world.
Some innovations are more visible than others. The Science Museum of Minnesota renovated an entire floor to make way for Sportsology. With the ability for visitors to race a T-Rex, this is our most technologically advanced exhibit. Designed in collaboration with HealthPartners and TRIA, it presents the latest science on health and wellness.
Scientists at the museum’s environmental research station (St. Croix Watershed Research Station) are actively wrestling with some of our most pressing watershed-quality problems.
At the time of its launch 11 years ago, no other museum was interested in hosting our RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition. This exhibit tells the stories of race from biological, cultural and historical points of view. Today, more than 4 million people have seen this award-winning traveling exhibition in almost 60 locations. It continues to draw high interest and participation from across the nation. It became so popular, we had to create a second copy.
An exciting and relevant new initiative next year will further tie our educational programs to our mission. We’ve declared 2018 as the Year of the Engineer. The Science Museum and its community partners will spotlight the importance of engineering in addressing challenges around the globe and in our daily lives. We will inspire more young people to understand that a career in engineering is within reach.
Museums are evolving to adapt and meet changing audience expectations. My adult daughter told me recently she has more than 17,000 Snapchats; my niece is nearing 30,000. Our plans include personalized and contemporary ways to inspire our audiences. We have been an engaging regional destination for 110 years, and we have ambitious plans to continue that legacy for future generations. We welcome input and support from our community and are inspired by the possibilities ahead.
Alison Brown joined the Science Museum of Minnesota as its 16th president in May 2016.