MOSH has operated in its current location since 1969. As operations have outgrown the site, building a new attraction will expand the organisation’s capacity by 168 percent. The new museum will feature dedicated areas for exhibitions, classes and events, and an improved space for the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium.
The $85m project is expected to take around three years, with pre-construction site work beginning in 2022.
The importance of STEAM subjects
Bruce Fafard, chief executive officer at MOSH, has more than 30 years of experience in various industries including aerospace, insurance, manufacturing and retail.
“I have a very diverse background,” he tells blooloop:
“I started life in technology, moving into commercial construction, insurance and then finance, in addition to starting five different businesses of my own. One might classify me as a serial entrepreneur. I also have three daughters. My wife is an educator by passion and by training. We always told our daughters two things: that there is nothing that you can’t do, and always to be receptive to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).
“My wife was a math teacher, and that laid the foundation. They are all, in fact, in either the medical or the engineering fields.”
Bruce Fafard and MOSH
In creating a home environment, Fafard saw the importance of challenging young people to consider different options for a life career. With that as a backdrop, when the pandemic hit, Fafard reached out to the then executive director at the museum, Maria Hane:
“I asked if there was anything I could do to help support the museum and if there was anything in terms of support programs that they needed help navigating. I had known Maria for several years through our mutual involvement in leadership Jacksonville. She welcomed that opportunity with open arms.”
He started consulting on a pro bono basis. After several months, she asked him whether he would be interested in the open COO position:
“I said, most definitely I would be interested. That is what brought me in full-time. At that point, Maria had family things that required a lot of attention. She took a leave of absence to care for her mom. That led to her decision to step back, and here I am as the CEO.”
Engaging with visitors
“When I walk through the museum and interact with our visitors, especially the young people that we bring in, seeing their excitement, their engagement, the way they light up, it brings me back to the journey that we had as a family. I hope I can, in some small part, open up that world of opportunity for them. Especially for those that are from potentially disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Fafard.
One initiative towards that end is a partnership with the Duval County public schools:
“We are hosting one of their VPK [Voluntary Prekindergarten Education] programs here. It is tremendously exciting because I get to see them walk through the museum and engage with our staff. To me, that is just another part of what I hope to leave behind as a legacy.”
MOSH is unusual in that, as a museum of science and history, it blurs that boundary between the humanities and the sciences:
“We have been in this community for over 80 years. It’s a great testament, not only to what we bring but also to the interest and support from Northeast Florida. We draw from Southern Georgia and all of Northeast Florida.”
Redefining the guest experience
Fafard and his team engaged Gyroscope, an award-winning design studio from California, to help redefine the visitor experience. He explains:
“As we move into the new museum, it will be focused on three ecosystems; an innovation ecosystem, a cultural ecosystem, and a natural ecosystem.”
“Each of those is in some small way represented here, but will really be, in my mind, the fulfilment of our overall vision to have the science, the humanities, and the ecological impact that we have as humans on this planet, all blended and designed in such a way that our future visitors will be able to make that transition, but it won’t be a stark contrast.
“It will be a gradual transition, helping them see how innovation impacts our culture, how our culture influences our innovation and our natural ecosystem; why we need to protect our natural ecosystem, and how we can do that through innovation and in our culture. It really is an amazing experience that we’re designing and moving forward with.”
Expanding capacity at MOSH
One of the motivating factors behind the expansion was the fact that the museum has outgrown its existing space. MOSH Genesis will expand capacity by 168%:
“We have roughly 52,000 square feet for exhibit space and public space, so we are limited in what we can do, and in what kind of travelling exhibits we can bring in. With an eye toward a future museum that is, in fact, not that far off – we’re still targeting 2025 to be able to open the new museum – 140,000 square feet is really going to allow us to take these three ecosystems and expand them.”
“In terms of innovation, there is a lot going on in Northeast Florida. For example, we’ve got [American public aerospace developer and manufacturer] Redwire, who recently went public. They do a lot of the resourcing for NASA and for the space program. We have ongoing conversations with [privately funded aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services company] Blue Origin, and are adopting some of their programs in what we’re doing.”
Postcards to Space
In collaboration with Blue Origin and Duval County public schools, MOSH will be hosting the Postcards to Space competition.
“We’re so excited to be able to engage. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what will happen in the new museum,” he says.
“We also have a very rich medical community here; everything from Mayo Clinic through to Baptist Health Care. We collaborate with them, so are able to highlight what advancements they’re making in the medical field. We’re working with Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and will actually be one of the stops on their autonomous vehicle pathway.”
“In fact,” he adds, “we’re not sure we’ll accomplish it, but we want the autonomous vehicle to come into our lobby to drop off passengers there.”
A rich local history
Concerning the history element of the museum, Fafard says:
“We have a very deep and rich history here, especially in the areas of music. One of the things that we’re envisioning is a maker space. Somewhere visitors can come in and build their own musical instruments, and we have hands-on demonstrations while they’re doing so.
“We also have seen three or four military bases here and will continue to bring that history forward. We are not going to shy away from difficult topics. For instance, Jim Crow, and the impact of the civil war on our region. Then there is our American Indian heritage here, which is very rich.”
Currents of time
An award-winning permanent exhibit called Currents of Time will be brought over to the new MOSH building, and expanded:
“We will employ location-based technology, either a beacon technology or geo-fencing. The exhibits will have an interactive component to them.
“So, if you’re a visitor, and, let’s say, you’re going through the re-imagined currents of time and you’re standing outside of one of the components that has to do with the Kuna Indians. The beacon technology will notice that you’re spending a considerable amount of time there. And then we will push out an interactive component to provide a richer experience for that exhibit.”
Fafard will be challenging the exhibit designers to work collaboratively with the rest of the team to make make a minimum of 30% of the permanent exhibits dynamic. He explains:
“This will mean that individual visitors can come back several times a year and have a completely different experience. There is so much that can be done with the deployment of technology to bring static exhibits to life.”
Natural history at MOSH
Transitioning to the topic of natural history, he says:
“At MOSH we also really want to highlight the ecology of Northeast Florida, and how we as humans interact with that ecology. What impact do we have on the aquifer? Water is a big issue globally. We’re going to be working with our water provider, the JEA, on a water lab.”
This will be, effectively, another maker space:
“Our visitors will be able to go to the St. Johns River, take a sample of water, bring it into a lab and be walked through a guided discussion in looking through microscopes. That will then transition into, ‘Hey, do you realise that when you interact in your backyard, and you take something and dump it, that it ends up in our aquifer?’ “
“Blending the innovation with the natural shows the visitor through that process that they personally have an impact on our ecosystem here.”
People, once engaged in this way, are likely to make small positive changes in their behaviour.
“Our mission, something that really resonated with me, is to inspire the joy of lifelong learning by bringing to life the sciences and regional history,” he says:
“As a lifelong learner myself, I fully understand how important it is to be able to create an environment where you spark that interest. You cultivate it, and you have a call to action, so that individuals are not just coming and being fed, but they’re being educated, they’re being challenged, and then they’re given a route to participate.”
The economic benefits of MOSH Genesis
The MOSH Genesis project will have lasting economic benefits for the local community.
“We did have a market study done for us. Currently, in a non-pandemic year, we run between 180 and 220,000 visitors annually. We expect the new museum, after year three of operation, to bring in somewhere between 500 and 550,000 visitors.”
“The projection is based on current economic data and regional growth that we’re experiencing here in Northeast Florida. We are at 35 full-time employees, a number that will grow to approximately 140 to 150 full-time employees. We’ll also grow our budget to be somewhere between nine and ten million on an annual basis. That will have a tremendous economic residual impact on Northeast Florida and the local community.”
These are, he stresses, long-term benefits.
“While the construction will bring a substantial but limited investment, in addition to the direct expenses, the cascading effect will probably be closer to 220 to $230 million of direct economic impact during construction. We can then add well over a hundred new jobs, and the indirect economic benefit that brings.”
Reaching underserved audiences
Finally, concerning the perennial challenge of reaching under-served audiences, Fafard says:
“What we do today, of course, is an easy conversation to have with the converted.”
“Most of our outreach to the local schools is targeted toward Title 1 schools. Those that are predominantly below the poverty line.”
Title 1 is a federally funded educational programme. It provides supplemental funds to assist schools with the highest student concentrations of poverty to meet school educational goals.
“In moving, we substantially increase access to that community. As we move to the north bank, it also puts us closer to the economically disadvantaged.
“Another new programme that the city funds is the Emerald Trail. This will open up a green gateway, right to the doors of the museum, for pedestrian traffic and bicycles. We are excited to have that because that will be another gateway where we can reach out to the economically disadvantaged and provide them with the capability, or the opportunity, to come and visit the museum.
“That’s also why we engaged and are hosting the VPK programme here. We expect to be able to expand that in the new museum; again, our target is toward the Title 1 schools. We have got a lot of effort and focus on being able to bring them in and open up the world of opportunity to them.”
Images courtesy of MOSH. Renderings courtesy of DLR Group, for illustrative purposes only.