At the Museum of Discovery and Science
By John M. Hayden
An iconic 52-foot gravity clock. A spectacular IMAX screen. An Everglades airboat adventure without the humidity or bugs. These are some of the elements that make the Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) a Fort Lauderdale favorite.
But take a closer look, and you’ll see the museum isn’t just a community attraction. It’s a true community connector.
Joe Cox is the president of the museum, and after one year on the job, he can sum up the future in one word: inclusion. Joe spent some time with OutClique to give us an in-depth look inside his big plans. “Our goal is provide all families with access to our great programs and exhibits,” said Joe. “The museum is surrounded by varying economic communities. Just to our east, there are new luxury apartments and condos being constructed that reflect the energy and enthusiasm of our growing city. Just to the north and west of the museum, we have neighborhoods that may have some economic challenges.”
“Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of the museum’s plans,” Joe continued. MODS is uniquely situated among a diverse population of race, gender, sexual orientation, and economic status in the heart of Fort Lauderdale’s downtown Himmarshee Village. It’s a place which brings everyone together.
In addition to attracting more than 90,000 students every year on field trips, the museum has a program to help military and low income families experience its attractions. But inclusion isn’t just about affordability. It’s about fun for everyone and every community in South Florida. “The museum offers several educational and interactive exhibits, which adults will really enjoy. They are able to rediscover their childlike wonder,” Joe said.
Discovery After Dark is an after-hours party at the museum, catered by Shooters and liquid refreshments provided by Biscayne Bay Brewing Company. Although still in its first year, this series of events is already attracting more than 400 visitors to the museum to simply play in the exhibits, connect with friends, and encounter and be inspired by science.
If it sounds a little edgy, well, Joe says that’s the point. “Today’s museums are all about the community. When museums first started, they were these gilded halls where visitors would go and be imparted with great knowledge about a single subject. Now, museums are highly interactive and partner with the surrounding communities to offer exciting programs.”
He would know. Joe is far from being a novice to museum management. Last year, he returned back home to Florida after serving as the president of the EcoTarium Museum of Science & Nature in Massachusetts. Previously, Joe was the executive director of the Golisano Children’s Museum in Naples, Florida. He also was a naturalist and the center director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center in Naples.
An integral part of Joe’s plan is to ensure that the museum further embraces and welcomes the LGBTQ+ community with open doors. The museum has always been very welcoming to everyone. But, under Joe’s leadership, the museum has further implemented internal trainings, policies and procedures, as well as marketing materials and expanded its overall community presence. “The museum is always evolving and this initiative has been fantastically well-received by the staff and the greater South Florida community. Everyone is excited about the programs and events, and all the way to our pride buttons.”
One of the most recent, visible changes at the museum is an all gender restroom. Other initiatives may not be as visible to the general community, but are as impactful. “We now have the LGBTQ+ Inclusivity Task Force, which includes 18 community members. From leaders of pride committees and corporations, to LGBTQ+ media, we’ve really tried to make sure that we are working with the advice of the community, versus us telling the community what we think it needs.”
As part of the museum’s community engagement, it will be honoring Fort Lauderdale’s openly gay mayor, Dean Trantalis, and hosting a screening of the movie, Families Like Yours at its 2019 Family Pride Day on June 22.
“I’m really thrilled to see the museum has played such an important role in the community for so many years and it has so much more potential and reach beyond Broward County. With our LGBTQ+ initiative, the Museum of Discovery and Science is one of the bigger museums to be taking this step. We are very diligent and thoughtful in communication with the community.” To Joe, this means serving as an example on community issues for other cities.
The museum also has a fun and bright future. Joe says the years to come will focus on keeping it real, and keeping it virtually real. Grab your phone. The museum’s first augmented reality exhibit in partnership with the Florida Panthers ice hockey team that has just launched. “You’ll be able to come to the museum, use your very sophisticated Panther tracking device (aka your smartphone) to go through the museum and track digital Florida Panthers. A very ‘Pokémon Go’ experience around the museum,” continued Joe.
And if that goes well, the community can expect MODS to take it to the next level. “The museum can enhance an existing exhibit through augmented reality in order to enrich each individual user’s experience,” commented Joe.
Again, it all comes back to inclusion. Gay or straight, young or old, family or individual, now more than ever, MODS is including everyone!