Posted by: COSI | June 11, 2009

Power of Real

I’ve been continually walking through our Lost Egypt exhibition to observe the use (or non-use if that be the case) by our guests of exhibition components. I’ve had an old term I learned early in my CEO days come back to mind—“the power of real.”

In a former CEO life leading collections based museums it was about the power of the real object. There is just something about seeing the real thing—whether it is the canvas and the brush strokes that Van Gogh actually created himself, or the actual mastodon tusk of a creature that moved about our area 10,000 years ago, or standing on the very spot, looking out over the same land that Lincoln did when he gave his Gettysburg address—there is something about these experiences that fills a niche of human interest. I still remember when we had an exhibition of dinosaur skeletons at a former museum and a group of kids were eyeing it with interest and asked me, “hey mister, is this real?” As soon as the words were out of my lips, “No, they are casts of the real bones” their interest changed and the youth moved on—despite my efforts to try to explain the exhibition’s significance.

At the same time, just because something is “real” doesn’t necessarily make it meaningful for many by just setting it out there in front of the public—think of the “dusty, boring” mental picture that too many people have of museums (some deservedly earned I’m afraid to admit).

Coming here to COSI, “real” meant that we engage our guests with “real science phenomena” – “here, you look at the light through this diffraction grating and see Mother Nature lay out the colors of the light before your very eyes”.

We’ve worked to expand on that and make sure that our guests can also engage with “real scientists and engineers” through our special programs and days, with the “real stories of innovation” that are coming out of the labs in our very community, and now “real research” taking place in our Labs in Life.

Lost Egypt exhibition

Lost Egypt exhibition

In our Lost Egypt exhibition it’s been a pleasure to see how well our team has assembled such a wide variety of “reals” that seem to all have power with our guests. Whether it’s the awe I’m seeing for those standing in the mummy tomb, to the fascination with the real technology that is being used to better understand a culture and place long ago, to the connection I’m seeing with the stories of their work narrated by the real scientists we partnered with on the project.

Yep, the “power of real” still has power in this age where it seems at times like technology is making everything virtual and distant. And maybe still owning that “real” spot in experiences is one of the strengths we have at science museums.

What is your take on the “power of real” in this era of electronic connections and virtual worlds?

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