Friday, January 8, 2010

Museums of the Future

Happy New Year! It is 2010. Welcome to the future! If you asked me twenty years ago what I thought the world would be like in 2010 I probably would have imagined we'd be living in outer space and driving around in flying cars like the Jetsons. 

Now that we're actually living in the "future" I would expect that new museums would be producing new and inventive exhibits but a recent visit to the newly opened Children's Museum of the Treasure Coast in Stuart, Florida did not meet my expectations. I had really been looking forward to visiting this museum because it was a long time in the making. I'd read a lot of articles about its construction over the past few years but lack of funding put the opening on hold. 

So after much anticipation and excitement, I prepared myself to take my niece and nephew the day after Christmas. I did a lot of deep breathing exercises and stretches to get myself both mentally and physically prepared for the massive crowds but when we walked in, the place was completely empty. There was only one other family there. It was a huge space but only half of it was being used. The rest was blocked off. Was it unfinished? Was this some sort of event space or theater in the making? I'm not sure. My expectation from this new museum was to find some fresh and new exhibits but what we got was a rip-off of every other children's museum exhibit in the country. Perhaps if the museum had something the others don't they might have more visitors. "Our Town Wellness Center" had the exact same exhibit that I worked on at a children's museum ten years ago! It was like I traveled back in time. Hmmm...Now that would be a cool exhibit! 

"Toddler Beach" was cute. It was your typical cushiony vinyl toddler play area and the beach theme was fitting for the community but I think toddlers would be more interested in playing and exploring the REAL beach right outside the doors of the museum.

The worst offense was the "Our Town Market" which scored a big fat ZERO for creativity, inventiveness, and originality. It was very clear that the exhibits were based on sponsor money and this one was sponsored by Publix Super Market. I know this because the sponsor signs were bigger than any of the signs with educational content. I'm not even sure what the educational value of a mini-market exhibit is anyway. My 5-year-old niece got into a fight with a toddler who stole her fake plastic groceries out of her cart. On our way home I asked her if she learned anything new from her trip to the museum. She replied, "Yeah, it's not nice to steal someone else's groceries!" Maybe that's the message behind these grocery store exhibits?? 

Here's an original idea! How about we get a sponsor to fund a new task force called the Exhibit Police. Any museum that builds another child-sized market will get a fine. I think if I were to find out exactly how many Children's Museums in this country have these markets and issue them a fine, I would have enough money to build a new museum with some inspired fresh new and innovative exhibits! 

Actually, there was one exhibit in the museum that I liked a lot. It's also the gallery that my niece and nephew spent the most time in. It was called the Florida Cracker House sponsored by RE/MAX of course. This was a truly unique exhibit because it was exclusive to the region. Children learn about traditional cracker houses and the significance their architecture played in early Floridian life. It also teaches about different types of houses all over the world and how the region and climate affect architecture. This exhibit reignited the waning hope the other exhibits left me with for the future of museums.

We might not be driving around in flying cars but the world is constantly changing so why are we still making the same exhibits that we were making more than a decade ago?! 

With a new year comes new resolutions. For 2010 let us resolve to stop copying what other museums are doing and come up with some really inspired and radical ideas...
Stop stealing groceries from other people's carts!