On a recent visit to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, I was surprised to see the interpretation choices that were being made. A product of a unique merger between three organizations – the Dallas Museum of Natural History, The Science Place, and the Dallas Children’s Museum – the Perot recently opening in December of 2012. The institution’s mission is grounded in the idea that the dreams of school children, education, and science matter.
The museum touches on many big topics, such as the universe, dinosaurs, energy, the earth, human biology, engineering, and innovation. The interactives were engaging but not over-stimulating and the space guided visitors in a way that enabled them to create their own museum experience. While in the Tom Hunt Energy Hall I was surprised to encounter a large drill that allowed visitors to “experience up-close what it takes to get natural gas out of the ground.”
The Shale Voyager accompanied an animated video short which promoted hydro-fracking and glossed over the controversies surrounding the practice. The video even included a catchy tune sung by an animated Barnett, the man that the Barnett Shale was named after. Water safety and other concerns that have been in the media were only briefly mentioned and were definitely not sung about! This video short was my first spotting of animation anywhere in the museum.
A floor down, in the Discovering Life Hall, animated dragons were used to teach visitors about alleles during reproduction and dominant versus recessive genes. An animated interactive was used to illustrate “adaptation” – the term used in place of the term evolution in the majority of the exhibit. Do you see a trend? Tough topic = animation! Talking about human reproduction is tricky, so we’ll use dragons (a fictitious animal). Evolution is difficult so we’ll use a blob-like character who produces goo and pees on itself. Natural gas drilling is controversial so we’ll not only use an animated movie but also throw in a catchy song that plays throughout the gallery.
Animation was infrequently utilized throughout the museum as a whole, and I’m wondering what you think: what’s the best way to approach tough topics in museums? Does infrequent and strategically placed animation within institutions help our younger audience members understand or does it water down the content? Is there a way for curators and designers to be objective when talking about controversial topics?