By Senior Curator of Education and History, James "Zach" Zacharias
The Museum's Education Department has a long history of creating and hosting large events and festivals of all kinds. These mission-driven events follow a curriculum of art, science, and history, or a combination of all three. Planning begins months in advance and involves multiple departments and personnel from the Museum. It is always a team effort between the education department, marketing and public relations, curatorial, maintenance, guest relations, and many individuals who all cooperate together to make these unique events come together for our members and the community as a whole.
When the Museum has an idea for an event, the first thing that is done is to check all available resources within the Museum and the community. We ask questions such as, "What are the goals and objectives of this event? Does it fit the Museum's mission? What is the potential event budget? How will we market this event and to whom? What type of equipment will be needed and do we need to bring in outside equipment?" The final step after multiple planning meetings is the execution of the event.
The Education Department has created several large-scale educational events that have been very successful. The Florida History Con, now going on its fourth year, is a program dedicated to celebrating the great diversity of Florida's past. Joe Vetter, a local historian and reenactor, has helped organize the event every year since its inception. Event programs feature history reenactors, university professors, and Florida authors, all giving presentations on state and local history. This past January, reenactor Diane Jacoby, performed a magnificent living history performance on "The Three Wives of Henry Flagler." Professors from the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida all gave presentations on their research.
The event also highlighted local history exhibitors who set up tables featuring information and artifacts while they worked the event as costumed characters from the past. This year, we had over 30 exhibitors from area organizations like the Civil War Round Table, the Port Orange Historical Trust, the Ormond and DeLand Historical Trusts, and the Florida Historical Society out of Brevard County. The event has become a great networking opportunity for organizations to exchange information, speakers, ideas, and to create awareness of their presence with the public. January's event brought in over 500 visitors. If you have not yet attended Florida History Con, keep your calendar open for January 2019 and look for next year's date to be announced.
Another long-running event hosted by the Education Department is the Natural History Festival, now in its 13th year. The Natural History Festival started out as a fossil festival in its earliest incarnation but expanded over the years to include other natural sciences including environmental, geology, marine science, and many others. The event is now featured as part of the Museum's Septembers with the Smithsonian series and always features a keynote speaker from the Smithsonian Institution. The event follows the same goals of utilizing local organizations as exhibitors and inviting local, state, and national speakers to present on a variety of topics. The Museum provides an excellent venue for visitors to view the array of natural history specimens while learning about ecological organizations available to the public. One of the key partners and exhibitors over the years has been the Florida Fossil Hunters based out of Orlando. Under the direction of Bonnie Cronin and Russel Brown, this group has provided a tremendous outreach to the event by bringing hundreds of fossils for display. They have a tireless dedication to educating the public on Florida paleontology.
The Natural History Festival always invites a prominent national presenter from a Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. as the keynote speaker of the day. In the past, we have hosted presenters such as Dr. Valerie Paul, who presented on the health of coral reefs and Craig Saffoe, Smithsonian Zoo Biologist and Curator of Big Cats who spoke on the biodiversity of large cats from Africa and Asia. Chad Truxell from the Marine Discovery Center in New Smryna Beach has presented several times on topics important to the Indian River Lagoon, and Dr. William C. Parker from Florida State University spoke on the rise of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, last year's Natural History Festival was postponed due to Hurricane Irma.
Family festivals have been another important focus for the MOAS Education Department. Events such as LEGO® Day, STEM family days, and Space Day have been very popular. LEGO® Family Day attracted over 400 visitors to participate in LEGO® building challenges, games, activities, and prizes for a day of family fun. STEM Family Day was created in conjunction with Jim Kotas and the GE Volunteers, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Spruce Creek Robotics Team. As part of his Eagle Scout Award, Nick Searles helped organize and create 15 science stations based on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This all-day event brought over 350 visitors to participate in a fantastic informal science learning environment.
Coming up on May 4, 2018, we will be hosting a new evening event for children called "Night at the Museum: May the Fourth Be With You." Coinciding with International Star Wars Day, this will be a night of art, science, and history based on Star Wars and the science of astronomy.
Another fun family day coming up on May 12, 2018, is the Museum's 3rd Annual Muscle Car Show. In partnership with a local disc jockey and car enthusiast, Frank Roberts, this car show combines beauty, engineering, and science to showcase many of America's greatest automobiles over the decades. Last year hte Museum hosted over 100 vintage and antique cars set up in the parking lot of a one-day exhibition. DJ Frank Roberts helps to organize this event with local car clubs and also plays old-time rock-n-roll hits at the event for guests to enjoy.
When the Education Department has an idea spark, the Musuem brainstorms as a team, engages with community partners, and uses event feedback to organize better events each year. Large-scale, festival style educational events create a space for academic learning in a more relaxed and informal environment. These are important events for the Museum and attract many new and repeat visitors helping to drive membership, create visibility within the community, and fulfill the mission of the Museum. Keep an eye out for more new and exciting events at the Museum of Arts & Sciences.