Museum of Living Art

Do zoos do a better job  at attracting a more diverse audience than museums? Some argue yes, and for a variety of reasons. At zoos, there are animals from all around the world, so people don’t feel that their culture or background is being excluded. Others say that the environment of zoos has been historical more flexible. No one ever tells you, “shhh – quiet in the African Animals area!” I would argue that zoos do a better job at giving the visitor a more flexible experience, i.e. you can bring your own stroller and stock it up with food that your family desires. I put this question to the test at a recent visit to one of the top five zoos in our nation (according to the USA Travel Guide).

While in the Dallas area, I did what the Texans do, and took a trip to the Fort Worth Zoo. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve visited a zoo and I was curious to see what type of visitor was present and check out the differences and similarities between exhibition design in museums and zoos. I’m currently working on an outdoor exhibition plan, so I also spent a fair amount of time man-handling signs and mumbling things about building materials. My favorite exhibit by far ended up being an indoor exhibit entitled, MOLA: the Museum of Living Art. This state of the art herpetarium was wonderfully designed to entice the viewer into space and keep them interested in the exhibition. Check it out!

The Museum of Living Art is located in the center of the Fort Worth Zoo and focuses on themes of conservation by letting visitors get face to face with over 5,000 reptiles and amphibians

The Museum of Living Art is located at the center of the Fort Worth Zoo and focuses on themes of conservation by letting visitors get face to face with over 5,000 reptiles and amphibians

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Visitors to the space could read about the animal they were watching or choose to simply browse from case to case. The exhibition was split into three sections – water, education, and desert.

I just couldn't get enough of this ceiling design! What a great way to get the visitor to feel immersed in the space.

I just couldn’t get enough of this ceiling design! What a great way to get the visitor to feel immersed in the space.

The center atrium of the exhibit separated the water reptiles from land-dwelling reptiles and served as a conservation education space, complete with a "learning lab" where visitors could hold a snake.

The center atrium of the exhibit separated the water reptiles from land-dwelling reptiles and served as a conservation education space, complete with a “learning lab” where visitors could hold a snake.

Orange track lights in the false ceiling extension contrasted the blue lighting in the earlier gallery, symbolizing a desert environment

Orange track lights in the false ceiling extension contrasted the blue lighting in the earlier gallery, symbolizing a desert environment.

The exhibit bridged the indoor space with outdoor exhibitions as an extension of its interpretation

The exhibit bridged the indoor space with outdoor exhibitions as an extension of its interpretation.

The exterior of the MOLA exhibition hall, complete with giant tortoises and interpretive signage to complete the experience

The exterior of the MOLA exhibition hall, complete with giant tortoises and interpretive signage to complete the experience.

I’d love to hear about your experiences in zoos. Do you think that they are inherently more welcoming to the visitor than museums? What can museums learn from zoos, libraries, and other informal learning environments?

 

 

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About catebay

Informal educator working in the world of art. Interests in public programming and community advocacy. Loves learning about people, collecting blue mason jars, and consuming Swedish fish.
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One Response to Museum of Living Art

  1. colincgp says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out the difficulty that National Parks (this does not include urban NPS sites) have in attracting more diverse audiences. Much like with zoos, people can basically do whatever they want (within reason of course) and have the added bonus of not even having to leave their cars, but park audiences tend to be very white. Unlike zoos many parks are far away from major metropolitan areas, but they still manage to bring in visitors from all over the country and even from abroad.

    You might want to check this out: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/03/science/earth/03parks.html?pagewanted=all.

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