A Look At Our Future
Our area has a rich history and many cultural offerings that make it such a wonderful place to visit, live, work, and play. Two of those gems are the SWFL Museum of History and the Imaginarium Science Center. Half a mile, yet worlds apart, the two museums each had a very different feel, visitor experience, demographic distribution, as well as separate staff and boards. In recent years, both boards began looking at the feasibility of bringing the two together, not just under shared leadership, but on the same campus. An outside museum consultant and a world-renowned architect offered their perspective, and the story of the two museums got a whole lot more exciting!
The groups convened to explore a range of options as to what the future of the museums might look like. With STEM at the focus of the Imaginarium’s mission, we discussed how STEM education has evolved over the past decades since the acronym was first coined. While science, technology, engineering, and math have been taught separately, science and math being commonplace in school curricula, engineering and technology were most misunderstood. Technology does not just refer to computers and electronics and engineers aren’t just train drivers. Technology is tools and solutions to problems, while engineering is the process by which we solve problems, typically applying math and science. Engineering is problem solving and technology is a means, a tool, an end-product. The real power of STEM is in highlighting and demonstrating connections. It is then that higher learning takes place, and a deeper understanding. This is also the goal of history education. We study the past to better understand it and guide our future—learn from our mistakes and our successes. Sounds a lot like science and engineering, too.
Why? Why bring a science center and history museum together? What do they have in common, anyway? It’s “Why?” Why did the war start? Why was the Fort built here? Why is there no physical evidence of the Fort left for us to admire as a monument? History helps us to seek and find the answers to those questions, and science plays a role, as well. Why is the ultimate question in both history and in science. History and science are simply two different lenses through which we view our world and gain an understanding of it.
This year, the two museum boards have merged into one, committed to joining forces to tell that story in a whole new way, and now that process will officially begin. Staff from both museums are working together to evaluate the exhibits and artifacts to plan how the story of Southwest Florida will be shared with guests for an educational interpretive experience with interactives and technology that will appeal to visitors of all ages and dynamic displays that can be easily rotated to highlight pieces not seen in the Museum’s permanent exhibits. It is an exciting story that will build in the coming months and beyond, as the public will also play a role in shaping the design with modifications based on observation and feedback. History, culture, science, technology, engineering, and math, will all be interwoven to highlight connections and enrich the educational experience. While history has already been incorporated into many of the Imaginarium exhibits including the natural history and environmental exhibits, the Caloosahatchee Experience, and the new U.S.S. Mohawk Veteran’s Memorial Aquarium, look for new enhancements and additions, as well as a rebranding that will better represent the bigger picture of what the merged museums will offer. The story is still being written and the best is yet to come.
*The 1924 Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot building is protected as a locally-designated historic landmark that will remain under the care of the City of Fort Myers. Proposals are currently being accepted from nonprofit organizations that may have interest in leasing the space and acting as stewards of the property.