Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia Exhibits Department Records
Scope and Contents
Researchers will find a range of materials that span the better part of the 20th century. Of special interest are the Harold T. Green papers, for these include paintings, specimens, color swatches, sketches, photographs, and illustrations of all sorts taken in situ on expeditions to Africa in the 1930s. Later series reflect the operating methods of the Exhibit Department's project managers into the 1990s.
- Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (Organization)
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This collection is open for research use.
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Biographical / Historical
A Brief History of the Education and Exhibits Departments at the Academy of Natural Sciences, prepared by Barbara Ceiga, Vice President of Public Operations
Charles M.B. Cadwalader Report of the Managing Director of the Museum, 1929
“To see that our scientific work is shared with the public in ways that instruct and entertain is one of our direct responsibilities, for knowledge of Nature not only widens the mental horizon, but helps to ease the common burdens of life.”
Before 1935: Lectures and Taxidermy Prior to the 1930s, the Academy of Natural Sciences had neither an education department nor an exhibits department.
Education programs were the responsibility of the Committee on Lectures and Instructions and consisted of free public lectures that were offered on a weekly basis. These lectures, although held at the Academy, were presented and underwritten by the Ludwick Institute, a charitable organization founded by Christopher Ludwick in 1799.
Exhibit-related activities were limited to the output of a single taxidermist, one Mr. David McCadden, who served under the various curators. Mr. McCadden joined the Academy around 1892 and remained its taxidermist through the 1940s.
In 1920, Harold T. Green came to work at the Academy. At first, he was in charge of arranging the public lectures funded by the Ludwick Institute. However, within a year he was also “superintending” exhibits. His skills as a taxidermist and artist soon overtook his role as a program coordinator and, in 1930 his title was officially changed to “Curator of Museum Exhibits.”
In 1929, Green created his first habitat group, or “diorama.” It depicted a group of rocky mountain goats and was installed in the location currently occupied by the Eastern Pennsylvania dioramas in North American Hall. Many Academy curators strongly opposed this new-fangled approach to displaying plant and animal specimens in a lifelike setting. Building dioramas was a costly undertaking and diverted funds from research activities. Also, to some curators, the notion of “recreating nature” constituted fakery and pandering to the public. It was no substitute for the time-honored tradition of displaying row upon row of static mounted specimens in phylogenetic order.
Ironically, it was the Great Depression that provided an unexpected boost that enabled dioramas to flourish at the Academy. Very wealthy patrons who were largely unaffected by the economic hardships of the day continued to go on safari, but in the 1930s they began bagging big game in the name of education—a charitable excuse for pursuing an expensive hobby. A second boost came in 1935, when the Works Progress Administration began supplying the Academy with skilled artists. Between the wealthy sportsmen-patrons and the ambitious Curator of Exhibits, these artists were kept busy painting scenic backgrounds, building models, and lending their talents to the creation of the dioramas.
1936: Setting a Course for Education In preparation of the Academy’s 125th anniversary in 1937, a committee made up of museum trustees and administrators, leading educators, and “prominent Philadelphians” undertook the creation of an Educational Development Program. Adopted on May 25, 1936, it outlined a long-range plan for the future growth of the Academy. Its objectives were: 1. To strengthen the scientific work of the Academy, and to provide for its growth. 2. To inaugurate an Educational Department that would make the Academy a vital part of the public and private school system of Philadelphia. 3. To create a dramatic and vital museum of natural history with modern educational exhibits that would instruct and interest young and old alike. 4. To re-establish the Academy’s Department of Geology and Paleontology that would provide a world center for research and teaching on the origins of Early Man.
The committee set a goal of raising nearly $380,000 to fund a five-year demonstration period for implementing their objectives. Although the center for the study of Early Man was short-lived, both the Education Department and Exhibits Departments thrived during the demonstration period, and have continued to promote the public education mission of the Academy to the present day.
1936-1945: Lessons and Dioramas Education Department In 1936, the Academy appointed W. Stephen Thomas Director of Education. Among his first tasks was to send out 1600 surveys to Philadelphia school teachers asking them for suggestions as to what kinds of educational support they would like to receive from the Academy. Topping the list were requests for lending materials—specifically natural history specimens—for use in the classroom, and natural history lessons for school children at the Academy.
By the following year, Thomas had developed six lessons, covering paleontology, geology, mineralogy, local mammals, birds, and insects. The lessons consisted of classroom instruction followed by visits to the museum galleries that related to the lesson’s theme. Thomas taught most of the lessons himself, assisted by one instructor.
In 1938, Thomas added four more offerings to the Education Department’s roster. • In January, the Junior Explorers Club welcomed boys and girls to the Academy on alternating Saturday mornings to meet with explorers and develop their interests in nature studies. • Also in January, Demonstration Classes began traveling to hospitals, orphanages, and homes for disabled children. These early outreach programs brought portable versions of a natural history museum to those who were unable to come to the museum themselves. • In April, a Nature Study Course was initiated. Thirty-two men and women, most of them scout leaders and directors of camps and recreation centers, attended eight evening courses that instructed them on how to incorporate nature study into their programs. • In July, summer programs for “stay-at-home” Philadelphians were offered. These include free lectures, guided tours of the museum galleries for camp groups, and expeditions for adults to local parks. The last of these programs proved so popular, they were extended beyond the summer months as “Fall Field Trips.”
The following year, Thomas left the Academy to become the Executive Secretary of the Committee on Education and Participation of the Sciences at the American Philosophical Society. He was replaced by Charles Mohr, who continued to expand the educational offerings of the Academy. The popular field trip program was renamed “Expeditions for Everyone” and ran year-round. By the following year, a nature garden was planted along the 19th Street side of the museum so that urban children could encounter local plants, terrariums were established and used in programs, and a summer camp was initiated.
Although the war had a great impact on the Academy as a whole, the Education Department was largely unaffected. Able to retain its entire staff, it continued to offer a full roster of programs for adults and children throughout the war years.
Exhibits Department In the Exhibits Department, Harold Green continued his quest to fill the museum galleries with dioramas. The North American Hall was nearly complete, the Asian Hall was coming along, and now the African groups were taking shape.
In addition to his devotion to dioramas, Green had become interested in another new style of museum exhibit. In 1936, he had traveled to Europe to find out what the latest trends in their museums were. He was especially taken by the technology-based “teaching exhibits” that he saw in Germany. Upon his return, he began incorporating these techniques into his work at the Academy.
In 1937, the Hall of Early Man was installed in the first floor of the Race Street building (currently Dinosaur Hall). It included very few specimens and was not organized along traditional themes of taxonomy or chronology. Instead, it featured diagrammatic representations, abstract models, and a recreation of a dig site where bones of early man and mammoths had been uncovered. Dramatically lit facsimiles of cave paintings helped complete the effect.
The following year, Green began experimenting with technology-based exhibits. He transformed the Hall of Early Man into the Hall of Earth History, which featured an interactive display of fluorescent minerals and a visitor-activated radium detector that was displayed next to a collection of radioactive minerals and clicked away at the press of a button.
In 1939, the Academy had its first truly interactive exhibit in the form of an “electronic quiz” that tested visitors’ knowledge of minerals. A little light glowed when visitors correctly identified minerals on display. That same year, a Hall of New Exhibits was established and featured temporary displays organized around a specific theme. Many of these themes were influenced by the war. A 1943 display of birds that use camouflage to escape predators was called “Victory.” An exhibit entitled “The Raw Materials of the Atomic Bomb” ran for several months in 1945.
During the war years, the work of the Exhibits Department slowed considerably. Two of its five members, including Harold Green, were called to active duty from 1942 to 1945. No new habitat groups were executed during Green’s absence.
In 1942, the remaining exhibits crew managed to open the Audubon Hall of Birds, which occupied much of the third floor of the museum. It featured traditional cases of birds mounted in taxonomic order, but displayed against background paintings depicting a generalized version of their habitat, e.g., seashore, grassland, woodland, etc.
1946-1956: An Educational Powerhouse Education Department In 1947, Charles Mohr left the Academy to work for the Audubon Nature Center in Greenwich, CT. He was replaced by James Fowler, an avid amateur herpetologist who became a research associate with the Academy’s Department of Amphibians and Reptiles.
Over the next ten years, Fowler dramatically strengthened and expanded the department’s offerings. Like his predecessors, he organized the annual Ludwick Lectures, and ran the informal nature programs for adults and children. He also enhanced the Academy’s relationship with the Philadelphia school system, improved the quality of all the public programs, and popularized the local field trips called “Expeditions for Everyone.”
In 1951, the department began offering its first fee-based educational programs in the form of ten-week adult natural history courses. The fee was $10 for non-members, $7.50 for members. Like the other educational offerings, these proved to be highly successful. Soon, the general natural history curriculum was joined by a special lapidary class, in which students learned to collect, identify, and polish rocks and minerals.
Exhibits Department Upon returning to the Academy from his military service in Burma, Harold Green wasted no time in focusing his attention back on his beloved dioramas. The last of the North American Hall dioramas (Sonoran Desert) was completed in 1947, followed by the Wild Yak and Kiang in the Asian Hall. These Asian dioramas were somewhat of a tribute to Brooke Dolan, an Academy trustee who had collected the specimens prior to the war, and was killed in action while trying to rescue a bomber crew that had been shot down over China. By 1957, all of the major dioramas at the Academy were completed.
Green also made several more large-scale expeditions, accompanying patrons as they collected specimens for exhibits and research.
In 1947, the Limnology Department was established at the Academy, opening a new era in scientific research. The focus on environmental science, especially pertaining to freshwater systems, was soon being incorporated into exhibits throughout the museum.
In 1951, the Academy opened two new exhibits that illustrated a ground shift taking place in science museums around the country. The Hall of Philadelphia Birds (the remnants of which can be seen in Bird Classroom) was executed in a traditional style, featuring dioramas of birds in their natural habitats and cases of taxidermy mounts arranged in taxonomic order. However, the River Valley Hall (located on the south mezzanine above today’s Dinosaur Hall) featured no specimens at all, but instead used scale models and diagrammatic graphics to tell the story of the Delaware River, from its headwaters to its mouth.
The following year, the Academy hosted its first traveling exhibit. Called “Stories in Hair and Fur” and organized by the Cranbrook Institute, it comprised 30 panels providing “much enlightening information on the commercial treatment and uses of fur and hair.” This was followed by more traveling shows, ranging from a display of replicas of the crown jewels of England to installations of paintings and photographs, some of which had little to do with natural history.
In addition to developing new exhibits and hosting traveling ones, the Exhibits Department began to focus its attention on “modernization and improvement” throughout the museum. The Hall of Minerals was remodeled, the Eastern Pennsylvania dioramas were installed, and in 1955, a Dinosaur Ball was held to raise funds for a new dinosaur exhibit. Up until this time, the only dinosaur the Academy ever had on display was the 1868 plaster mount of Hadrosaurus foulkii, which was retired in the 1930s due to its deteriorating condition.
Admission Fees In 1953, the Academy began charging an admission fee for museum visitors. Adults were 50 cents, children 25 cents, and non-Philadelphia school groups 20 cents per person. Members and Philadelphia school groups were free. The Academy was the last of the city’s major museums to charge admission fees.
1956-1964: Popularizing the Museum Education Department In 1957, the Education Department suffered a blow when its tireless director, James Fowler, left to take a position at the Cranbrook Institute. For the next two years, an interim director took the reins while administrators searched for a new department head. In 1959, they selected Ray Howe, who held a master’s degree in education. He began instituting changes almost immediately: the Saturday morning nature film and lecture series was extended to take place every weekend, a story hour was held every Thursday, a monthly “Family Adventures” program was initiated, and the highly popular “Expeditions for Everyone” were made members-only programs. The expeditions quickly waned, and were even discontinued for a short time. But within a few years, they were revived and regained their popularity.
Howe also began a new members-only lecture series featuring “distinguished scientists.” These occasional programs included presentations by Joy Adamson of “Born Free” fame and Louis B. Leaky. The lectures were invitation-only affairs, open to upper level membership holders.
In 1962, the Education Department piloted a new roster of museum lessons. Twenty different one-hour study units for K-12 were offered, not in classroom settings, but in the exhibit galleries themselves. Areas used for lessons were closed off and visitors were kept out in order that classes could take place uninterrupted. According to Howe, this helped to convey “the image of the museum as a place of quiet study.”
Also in 1962, the Education Department began showing full-length films in the lecture hall. At first, the films were nature-related, then science-related, and then not related to science at all. The 1963 roster included “You Can’t Take It With You” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Overall, 1962 was a banner year for the Academy. It celebrated its 150th anniversary and, for the first time in its history, attendance topped 200,000 visitors. Unfortunately, the following year, general attendance began a steady decline that would continue for quite some time.
Exhibits Department With no more dioramas on its docket, the Exhibits Department turned its attention to developing other kinds of exhibits that would attract visitors to the museum.
In 1956, Green designed and constructed a live animal house in the Academy’s courtyard to house a collection of about 20 small animals. His hope was to provide an “occasional interjection of a live animal” into the exhibit galleries. Soon after, he installed a series of live fish aquariums in an alcove in Asia Hall.
In April of 1957, the Academy unveiled the skeleton of Corythosaurus—its first mounted dinosaur since Hadrosaurus foulkii had been dismantled in the 1930s. The nearly complete skeleton of Corythosaurus had been excavated in 1927 by the famous fossil-collecting Sternberg family. They traded it to the Carnegie Museum, who traded it with the Denver Museum, who sold it to the Academy in 1954 for $2000. At the time, the Academy had neither a vertebrate paleontologist nor a fossil preparator on staff, so the bones were shipped up to the American Museum of Natural History for mounting. Installed in the Hall of Earth Sciences, Corythosaurus remained the only dinosaur skeleton on display for the next 30 years.
In 1958, the department began offering “Wild Animal Shows” on weekends. These shows, conducted by newly hired demonstrators, were conducted first in the exhibit galleries, and later in the Lecture Hall. They proved to be very popular and were expanded to daily performances the following year. The animal collection began changing from small, hand-carried animals to large, showy ones and soon included a miniature donkey, wallaby, red wolf, coyote, woolly, and puma. The puma lasted less than a year before she became too difficult to handle and was sent to a zoo. Each hour-long show featured five or six animals, each of which sat on a pedestal until it was called upon by the demonstrator.
In 1960, the River Valley Hall, which had been installed nine year earlier, was made smaller to make room for the “Junior Museum,” a project spearheaded by the Junior League and members of the Academy’s Women’s Committee. This highly popular hands-on children’s nature museum was the precursor to today’s “Outside In” exhibit.
Over the next several years, live animal displays began popping up throughout the museum, exhibited alongside their taxidermied relations. Live lovebirds appeared in Bird Hall and pythons in Asian Hall.
With exhibit-building on the wane, and live animal demonstrations on the rise, Harold Green was appointed Chairman of Live Natural History. In 1962, Robert Barnes was hired as the new head of the Exhibits Department. A sculptor and bronze caster by training, his mandate was not to create new exhibits, but to assist the Academy’s administration in drawing up plans for a new building on the Delaware waterfront.
1964-1975: Flux In 1964, Robert Barnes resigned from his position as head of the Exhibits Department. Shortly after, Ray Howe also resigned from his position as head of the Education Department. In 1965, the Academy decided to merge the two departments into one and hired Gilbert Merrill from the Science Museum of Boston to head the newly combined department. In just five years, the group would grow from 14 to 23, and all but three of the original 14 staffers would remain. Merrill himself had moved on in less than two years.
It was around 1968 that the term “museum” began to be used to describe only the public aspect of the Academy—a semantic differentiation that continues to this day and causes much confusion on the part of both the staff and public. It was also at this time that the live animal group became part of the Education Unit. For a short while the security officers were also organized under the auspices of the Education Unit.
By the end of the decade, things had come full circle. Education and Exhibits were split into two separate departments once again; while Security was combined with Admissions to make a third department. However, during this time, Exhibits had shrunk from seven to five members, while Education had grown from seven to 18 members, eight of whom were devoted to maintaining the live animal collection.
By this time, live animals had become the main focus of many educational programs. The collection had expanded to more than 70 animals, and kept an ever-growing staff of full-timers busy. In addition to the paid staff, a corps of dedicated volunteers, known as the “snake ladies,” kept busy giving live animal demonstrations in the museum, while a second group, the “roadrunners,” carried live animals to hospitals, rehab centers, and nursing homes.
In the mid-1960s, Philadelphia was on the road to becoming a city in economic decline, and the Academy’s educators were faced with the ever-increasing challenge of serving two very different audiences with two very different sets of needs. For the local natural history enthusiast (the Academy’s traditional audience, now in rapid decline), they continued to offer the traditional roster of lectures, films, and outings, and even added a couple of new programs. The Seminar for Outdoorsmen presented “timely information about nearby places of natural history interest.” And the Maine Island Ecology Program, (begun in 1970) offered high school students the opportunity to explore the ecosystem of a coastal island in near Acadia National Park. For the underserved inner-city youth (an audience on the rise), they began developing more and more programs, thanks in large part to funding from a variety of government-sponsored anti-poverty initiatives.
1975-1985: The Youth Movement Takes Hold The administration of the Education and Exhibits Departments once again was in flux during this time period. Up until 1981, Dennis Wint (now President and CEO of The Franklin) served as Vice President and oversaw the two departments. Under his direction, the focus of both educational programs and exhibits continued to become more focused on the youth audience.
After Wint’s departure in 1981, Robert Peck served for a short time as the Vice President for the Museum. After that, the position was retired and Exhibits and Education became part of the division of Finance and Administration.
Education Department Throughout this period, the Education Department was under the direction of Russell Daws, a biologist by training and an enthusiastic science educator. Photographs from this period show Daws engaged in all types of programs, from children’s workshops to adult lectures to local field trips.
By the mid-1970s the Education Department was focusing much of its attention on the youth audience, particularly students enrolled in the Philadelphia public school system.
In 1977, the Academy began hosting the annual Carver Science Fair for grades 4-12. Over the next few years, the program spun off several other “Carver” events, including a week-long Summer Scholars program, Science Teachers’ Workshop, and a Science Symposium for students and teachers.
The department also launched a variety of grant- and government-funded programs designed to reach “disadvantaged” children, including • “WINS,” a two-year program targeted at 9th- and 10th-grade girls from single-parent homes • “Potentials,” an eight-week summer science program for inner-city high school students • Ludwick Field Trips, four Academy-guided day-long trips for disadvantaged city youth • “Motivation,” a Philadelphia School District program that brings live animals to neighborhood schools and sponsors two six-week Saturday workshops for college-bound disadvantaged high school seniors • “Museum Pacs,” sets of natural materials to be sent to inner city schools
To better accommodate the growing audience of youth groups, the Academy opened the Widener Education Center in 1982. Located on the lower level of the former Lecture Hall (which had been replaced with the current Auditorium in 1978), the Center included two large classrooms that could be reconfigured into four smaller classrooms when needed.
The Education Department continued to organize the Explorer lecture series and the Expeditions for Everyone, which were held nearly every weekend year-round. However, the emphasis on youth programs was stretching the department rather thin and, in the early 1980s, a volunteer member of the Women’s Committee, Caryl Wolf, took over organizing adult classes and workshop, using Academy scientists as program leaders.
Exhibits Department Unlike the Education Department, Exhibits experienced difficulty retaining a director for any length of time during this period. The position changed hands at least four times, resulting in loss of continuity or clear direction.
In 1975, Portia Sperr, a Montessori teacher, approached the Academy with a proposal: If the Academy would let her use a small space within the museum, she would run a hands-on learning gallery for children under seven. Inspired by the work of Michael Spock at the Boston Children’s Museum, Sperr was an enthusiastic supporter of play-based learning. Despite some reservations on the part of the curators, the Academy accepted Sperr’s proposal and the following year the “Please Touch” exhibit opened in a corner of Dinosaur Hall (what is now the Darwin Room).
Please Touch proved to be very popular and was soon spilling out of its small confines. After a brief period of territorial disputes and revenue-sharing requests, it was clear that Please Touch needed more room than the Academy could spare. In 1978, it moved to a location on 21st and Cherry. However, its brief stay at the Academy had made a lasting impression. The following year, the Academy had replaced the space previously occupied by Please Touch with its own hands-on nature museum for children, “Outside In.”
Outside In proved as popular as its predecessor, and soon the Exhibits Department was busy planning a larger, more immersive environment to house it in. After two years of collaborative planning between the Exhibits and Education Departments, in September 1984, the new and improved Outside In opened in its current location on the third floor.
In 1981, after 20 years of showing traveling and temporary exhibits, the Academy unveiled its first purpose-built Hall of Changing Exhibits. Located on the upper level of the former Lecture Hall, this 3500 square foot gallery could accommodate a wider range of exhibits than the ad hoc halls that had previously been used.
In 1983, work began on the Academy’s most ambitious exhibit project since the diorama days of the 1930s and 40s. The entire first floor and mezzanine of the Race Street building, which featured the Hall of Earth History and a smattering of other smaller exhibits, would be transformed into a permanent exhibit called “Discovering Dinosaurs.
A “dinosaur renaissance” had begun several years earlier, when several researchers began proposing the controversial theory that dinosaurs were agile, intelligent creatures; not the dim-witted ponderous beasts they had been previously portrayed as. Riding the wave of this renewed public interest, the Exhibits Department spent two years planning this major exhibit, which, according to one promotional article from 1983, would “step beyond the traditional displays of bones and skeletons that mark most dinosaur exhibits and will focus on recent theories about dinosaurs as living animals.”
To help alleviate the disappointment of visitors during the two-year-long dinosaur-free period leading up to the opening of the exhibit in early 1986, a temporary exhibit called “Dinosaurs: An Exhibit in the Making” opened in February 1984.
1986-1997: The Academy becomes the Dinosaur Museum For much of the 1980s and up until 1994, Samuel Gubens, Vice President for Finance and Administration, oversaw the Education and Exhibits Department, along with Marketing, Communications, the Museum Shop, and Visitor Services. Upon Gubens’ departure, these departments were organized into a separate division called Public Programs. In 1995, Phelan Fretz, who held a PhD in science education, became Vice President of Public Programs; however, his stay lasted just three years.
Education Department In 1986, the opening of the “Discovering Dinosaurs” exhibit sparked renewed public interest in the Academy—especially among children. That year, museum attendance shot up 68%, with more than 300,000 visitors coming through the doors. The Education Department met the increased demand for programs by reaching 436,000 children and adults (both on-site and off-site), Outside In hosted more than 175,000 visitors, Expeditions for Everyone had more than 1,000 participants, and the docent program attracted dozens of new volunteers.
1986 was also the year that the department established the roster of daily general visitor programs that continues to today. These included auditorium programs featuring live animals and slides, mini-shows in the exhibit galleries (also featuring live animals), and short nature films presented in the auditorium.
During this time, programs for adults began to wane, although the department continued to host the Explorer Series lectures and Expeditions for Everyone. For families and children, three new fee-based programs were added: Saturday Adventures, which were children’s programs that featured live animals, the Museum Family Theatre Series, which were family-oriented evening programs that combined science with participatory theater, and Safari Overnights, which were billed as “weekend camp-ins for organized youth groups and their leaders.”
In 1988, two new grant-funded programs were added to the department’s roster: SEUS, which underserved 7th and 8th graders, and a Community Group Partnership program to help science museums develop joint projects with community groups that work with women, minorities, and the disabled.
With an ever-growing roster of youth programs, most of which were grant-funded and aimed at underserved audiences, the Education Department grew from nine staff members in 1986 to 16 in 1996.
In 1990, after 15 years of heading up the department, Russ Daws left the Academy to become the director of the Tallahassee Museum. He was replaced by Jim McGonigle, who had been the Director of Watershed Programs. Over the next four years, he attempted to renew programming for a broad range of audiences, including adults. He launched a variety or adult courses, ranging from urban gardening to drawing dinosaurs. He also attempted to draw adult audiences to the museum on Wednesday evenings by keeping the museum open until 9 p.m. He also initiated a summer day camp program, which ran for the next decade.
In 1994, the directorship changed again when Nancy Peter joined the staff. With degrees in animal behavior and environmental education, Peter turned the focus of the department once again on youth programming, this time with a new emphasis on programs that utilized live animals. For a short time in 1994, Expeditions for Everyone were discontinued, but were brought back in March 1995 due to popular demand. Although now they were led mostly by outside experts and research staff, not by educators.
In 1996, Peter’s role expanded when she was made Director of Visitor Services.
The live animal section of the department received more prominent attention with the opening in 1997 of the Live Animal Center, funded by the Women’s Committee. This viewable animal enclosure moved into the space formerly occupied by the Widener Education Center. These expanded quarters enabled the live animal collection to enjoy a period of growth that has continued to the present. However, they also replaced the Academy’s only dedicated classroom space, thereby limiting the kinds of programs the Education Department could offer.
Exhibits After opening Discovering Dinosaurs in 1986, the Exhibits Department threw itself into developing and hosting a dizzying variety of changing exhibits. Shows ranged from candy to cows, robotic dinosaurs to treasures of the tar pits. The South Mezzanine served as a secondary changing exhibits gallery to accommodate smaller shows, which ran concurrently with larger shows in the changing exhibit gallery.
Also in 1986, the department made a concerted effort to assess and improve the condition of its historic dioramas and the natural history specimens that comprise the Academy’s non-research collections. Funded by grants from the Institute for Museum Services, a comprehensive condition survey was conducted to identify the most valuable objects and the most pressing conservation issues. Subsequently, the newly identified high-value items were re-housed and, when possible, stabilized. As for the dioramas, although the assessment revealed that all were suffering from years of neglect, the Serengeti Plain was identified as the most seriously damaged and underwent conservation and restoration in 1988.
Unfortunately, the directorship of the Exhibits Department continued to change hands in rapid succession, making it difficult to gain traction in any given area. Six different directors came and went during the 10 years following the opening of Discovering Dinosaurs, resulting in a department that drifted from one project to the next, each with a different set of priorities.
The longest-serving director during this time period was Mark Driscoll, who headed up the department between 1990 and 1995. Under his direction, the Big Dig interactive area on the mezzanine of Discovering Dinosaurs became first a temporary and then permanent exhibit. Also, Butterflies—Live and In Color, the first of several temporary exhibits featuring live butterflies opened.
In 1993, just seven years after Discovering Dinosaurs opened, the film “Jurassic Park” hit the theaters. Its computer-generated depiction of dinosaurs raised the bars for dinosaur exhibits across the country, including the Academy’s. Within two years, the Exhibits Department was gearing up for a $4.2 million renovation of Discovering Dinosaurs. The staff doubled in size (from five to ten), with five members of the department making up the Discovering Dinosaurs project team.
For the next five years, half of the department was focused on dinosaurs, while the other half kept busy producing several generations of live butterfly exhibits and mounting at least three traveling exhibits each year. Sadly, the dinosaur project was plagued with a variety of problems. The expected funding never materialized, the work fell behind schedule and delayed the publicly announced opening, the project manager was fired in mid-course and replaced with someone with no previous experience in managing exhibit projects. In short, it was a time of great turmoil that yielded a less-than-successful exhibit and a disheartened staff.
1998-2006: The Academy becomes a Children’s Museum In 1998, the Public Programs division lost its Vice President, Director of Education, and Director of Exhibits—all at the same time. The Academy also welcomed a new President, Paul Hanle. Rather than fill the position of Vice President, Hanle decided to restructure. He created two positions: Director of Operations, which was filled by Jay Pennie, a former retail store manager, and Director of Exhibits and Education, which was filled by Willard Whitson, an exhibit designer formerly with the American Museum of Natural History.
This administrative structure was short-lived and, the following year, it changed again. Pennie stayed on in his original position and was joined by Andrew Yanelli, another retail store manager, while Whitson was reassigned as Director of Exhibits.
Soon after Pennie’s arrival, he instituted a number of marketing surveys. A public perception survey revealed that many people thought the Academy was stuffy, stodgy, and elitist. What they wanted was a fun place to bring their kids. A member survey showed that members felt there weren’t enough events and activities offered exclusively to them. With this data in hand, and with the support of Hanle, Pennie began revamping the Academy’s public offerings.
Education For much of this period, the Education Department was without a director. Between 1999 and 2004, it fell under the supervision of Andrew Yannelli, a former retail store manager with no background in education. During this time, the department grew larger in size, more fragmented in organization, and almost exclusively focused on children. The Live Animal Unit became a separate department, headed up by Jacquie Genovesi. The rest of the staff became assigned to individual programmatic units, such as Outside In and Dinosaur Hall.
For a short time in the late 1990s, both the WINS and SEEC programs were removed from the Education Department altogether and placed into a completely independent department called “Learning and Technology.” By the following year, the two grant-funded programs had rejoined the rest of Education.
Also beginning in 1998, a robust roster of members-only programs and activities began to be cultivated. All adult education programs were transferred out of the Education Department and placed in the Membership Department. They were soon joined by family workshops, overnighters, and even the Expeditions for Everyone—now renamed “Academy Adventures,” and the Explorer Lecture Series, which was discontinued altogether and replaced with travelogues, which were organized by the Geographical Society.
The Education Department cultivated their focus on the youth audience. Free weekend programs took off, at first in all directions—game shows, jugglers, departmental open houses—but by 2002 they had settled into a yearly calendar of themed weekends—oceans, insects, reptiles, etc.
1999 was a watershed year for the Education Department—literally. Thanks to a large grant from the EPA, the department launched a variety of programs that emphasized watershed ecology. The centerpiece of this initiative was called the Urban Rivers Awareness Program and included teacher workshops, outreach programs, discovery lessons, and on-the-water experiences for both students and teachers. The bulk of these programs ran for five years—the duration of the grant.
In 2000, the Academy worked out an agreement with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America whereby youngsters could earn badges by fulfilling the requirements of Academy programs developed especially for them. These programs proved to be extremely successful. Also in 2001, the Education Department received a generous bequest from the Florence Foerderer estate. Part of this bequest made possible the purchase of two new vans for the department’s outreach program.
From 1962? To 2002?, the Education Department staff roster included two Philadelphia School District teachers. These teachers, whose salaries were paid by the school district, planned and delivered lessons for Philadelphia public school groups visiting the Academy. Around 2002, this arrangement was dissolved and in 2004 was replaced with SENSES (Supporting and Enriching Natural Science Education in Schools). Supported with a $250,000 district grant, this partnership program between the Academy and the School District used inquiry-based learning adventures to help teachers and students at six partner schools. As of 2009, this program remains part of the Education Department offerings, although it is no longer funded by the Philadelphia School District. Instead, it is supported by a variety of private and government grants, which the Academy solicits and administers.
In the fall of 2004, the Academy once again began offering adult lectures for the general public; however, they were not part of the Education Department. Called the “Town Square” series and organized through the Environmental Associates, they brought together scientific and policy experts for discussions of critical environmental issues. Two of first three were themed to coincide with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Exhibit.
In 2005, Jacquie Genovesi was promoted from Director of Living Exhibits to Director of Education.
Exhibits In March 1998, the Academy opened its newly renovated Discovering Dinosaurs. It featured an expanded Big Dig interactive area, brightly colored interpretive graphics, and a variety of activities that let visitors “get [their] hands into dinosaur blood, guts, and behavior.” In short, the new Discovering Dinosaurs was a more child-friendly version of its former self.
Later that same month, the Academy also helped sponsor Dinofest, a month-long festival at the Civic Center. The rationale of combining the opening of the new exhibit and the festival was to create a level of excitement that would translate into a huge boost in museum attendance. Sadly, this did not come to pass. While nearly 450,000 people attended Dinofest, only 187,721 visited the Academy in 1998—just 9% more than the previous year and far fewer than the 300,000+ who had visited in 1986 when the original version of Discovering Dinosaurs had opened.
The following year, the Academy produced the traveling exhibit “Planet Golf,” a cartoon-character-filled miniature golf course that explored various environmental topics. Unfortunately, the name “Planet Golf” was already a registered trademark and so the exhibit was re-named “Fore the Planet.” It toured as a traveling show, returning to the Academy in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Also in 1999, the Academy hosted what must have been the shortest exhibit in its history. Called “Insects: Jewels of Nature,” this exhibit covered the entire museum and featured tens of thousands of specimens from the Academy’s entomology collection. It ran just two days.
The Exhibits Department entered a tumultuous period when, in 2001, it opened “Living Downstream,” a permanent multimedia exhibit that explored the workings of watersheds. This exhibit was installed in a location previously occupied by a diorama featuring whistling swans. The demolition of the diorama, combined with the less-than-successful execution of the watershed exhibit created a rift between the Exhibits Department and the research staff that lasted for many years.
For the next three years, the department focused its attention on the auditorium and the exhibit area just in front of it. The auditorium received an upgraded a/v system, new seating, carpeting, and stage curtains. The adjacent exhibit area was transformed from a display of Mesozoic marine reptiles to a permanent exhibit called “Science at the Academy,” which showcased current research projects.
In 2004, the Academy hosted one of its most successful traveling exhibits (Chocolate) and one of its most ambitious ones (the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial). Chocolate drew nearly 67,000 visitors in its three-month run. The Lewis and Clark exhibit was also very popular, drawing nearly 94,000 visitors over a five-month period. However, the Academy had invested much more in the Lewis and Clark exhibit—two years planning, designing, negotiating loans, and fundraising, deinstalling the butterfly gallery, retrofitting the space to accommodate the heightened environmental and security requirements of the artifacts, and spending more than a million dollars on advertising and promotion.
In the wake of Lewis and Clark, which had been hailed as a critical success, but a financial disappointment, the Exhibits Department focused its attention once more on kid-friendly exhibits. The changing exhibit hall hosted a series of shows aimed at young children, including Dogs, Frogs, Bones, and My Home Planet Earth. In the permanent galleries, a small display of live snakehead fish went on exhibit and the auxiliary changing exhibit gallery was once again made into a live butterfly exhibit…although this version was designed to be year-round and permanent.
Just as Butterflies! was entering its construction phase, the Director of Exhibits, Willard Whitson, left the Academy to join the Please Touch Museum. In September 2006, Barbara Ceiga was hired to replace him.
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Language of Materials
Prior to the 1930s, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia had neither an education department nor an exhibits department. However, the museum clearly stated that “to see that our scientific work is shared with the public in ways that instruct and entertain is one of our direct responsibilities, for knowledge of Nature not only widens the mental horizon, but helps to ease the common burdens of life.” In 1920, Harold T. Green came to work at the Academy. At first, he was in charge of arranging the public lectures funded by the Ludwick Institute. However, within a year he was also “superintending” exhibits. His skills as a taxidermist and artist soon overtook his role as a program coordinator and, in 1930 his title was officially changed to “Curator of Museum Exhibits.” In 1929, Green created his first habitat group, or “diorama” which depicted a group of rocky mountain goats. Over the years, the priorities and goals of the Exhibits Department shifted and expanded based upon new ideas in museum education, public perception, and financial challenges. In the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia Exhibits Department records, researchers will find a range of materials that span the better part of the 20th century. Of special interest are the Harold T. Green papers, for these include paintings, specimens, color swatches, sketches, photographs, and illustrations of all sorts taken in situ on expeditions to Africa in the 1930s. Later series reflect the operating methods of the Exhibit Department's project managers into the 1990s.
Transferred from the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia Exhibits Department.
- Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia Exhibits Department Records, 1852-2001
- Eric Rosenzweig and Kira Vidumsky
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