Two area museums celebrated important milestones this week. The Museum of Nature & Science on Wednesday broke ground on a new building at Victory Park. The new $80 million Fort Worth Museum of Science and History opens today. KERA’s Stephen Becker toured the new space.
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A sculpture called The Happy Family stands in the courtyard of the museum’s school. The piece features three cheerful blue figures, each balancing on one leg.
It’s an image that could serve as a metaphor for the whole institution.
With its dual science and history missions, the museum is by its very nature a balancing act.
Charlie Walter is responsible for finding the right interplay among the museum’s many purposes. He’s the executive vice president in charge of programming
WALTER: “Some people love science, some people love history. Some people have small kids and want to go and have a hands-on experience. Other people want a more adult, aesthetic experience. So we think the building really strikes that balance. It was a balancing act, but the sweet spot is when you have different components that will appeal to different guests who walk through our door.”
Skeletons of dinosaurs that lived in North Texas roam the DinoLabs downstairs. Another room details the Barnett Shale, the natural gas reserve that lies a mile beneath the museum’s floor.
Head upstairs, and you’ll find the Cattle Raisers Museum and the Fort Worth History Gallery. The latter space traces the city’s history through the development of the street car.
WALTER: “That’s what makes it so powerful. It’s a Fort Worth story, it’s Fort Worth-centric, it’s interpreting science and history right in your backyard. So any kiddo or adult can connect with it and then explore more right in your community. You can go down to Glen Rose and see the tracks right there in the river that these dinosaurs made. You see the energy production all around us.”
But that’s not to say the museum has limited itself to Fort Worth, or even Texas.
One of the highlights is CSI: The Experience, based on the hit TV show. It’s an interactive production created by the museum that travels the country.
Visitors observe one of three crime scenes involving a dead body. Through forensic science, good old fashioned detective work and the help of a few video-taped experts, you’ll gather clues to solve the case.
One of those experts teaches you to analyze blood spatter patterns.
EXPERT: “If an object has blood on it or is bleeding and is walking through a scene, drips will come off periodically, and when you look at the scene, what you’ll see is a trail. That indicates movement through that scene.”
Cool, yet kinda gross.
But just wait until you study your victim on the autopsy table.
EXPERT: “When cleaning and prepping the body, my assistant found more maggots.”
Learning can be a dirty business.
Still, learning is the common thread that holds the museum together.
Sam Dean is a scientist based at one of Americas’ leading science museums, the Exploratorium in San Francisco. He designed some of the children’s exhibits now on display in Fort Worth and says that the museum’s dedication to education is what sets it apart from other science museums.
SAM DEAN: “Learning comes to the forefront. And so the design of your building and exhibits all flow from that being the number one thing that’s important – learning and exploration, discovery, joy and whimsy. Those things are not easy to find in a lot of places.”
Beginning today, you can hunt for them in Fort Worth.