Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Body Worlds marks new era for Discovery Place

The opening of the Body Worlds exhibit on Wednesday means many newcomers might soon be visiting Discovery Place, the science center that anchors uptown’s museum district, for the first time.

In my newcomer coverage, I have mentioned Discovery Place several times as a family-friendly resource for new arrivals. Growing up here, I remember that it was considered a national leader in science education for kids after it opened in the early 1980s. Leaders of other cities visited it to research how to create their own science centers. It was also a pioneer in the effort to bring life to uptown Charlotte’s streets.

But by the late 1990s, it had grown a bit tired. Paint was peeling. Exhibits were aging. Attendance was dropping. An effort to fund a $30 million renovation and expansion in 2001 failed when it was put before voters as part of a $342 million sports and cultural package that included a basketball arena. As any Bobcats fan knows, the city later built the arena anyway. Now leaders have crafted a plan to get $158.5 million in tax money for a cultural package that includes new museums on South Tryon street and $16 million to renovate Discovery Place.

But Discovery Place, under the leadership of president John Mackay, hasn’t waited for an infusion of new tax money to seek improvements, as the Body Worlds exhibit and last year’s exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls show.

"Those exhibits presage a new level of thinking for the organization," Mackay told me this morning at a media preview for Body Worlds. He’s seeking to bring Discovery Place back to being national leader among science museums, by developing its own exhibits that are high-caliber enough to go on tour to other cities. (Discovery Place developed the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit itself; Body Worlds has been on tour for a while, but Charlotte marks its only stop in the Southeastern U.S.)

As far as Body Worlds goes, I’m squeamish and I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience of seeing exposed muscles, bones, tendons and organs. However, I noticed I grew more comfortable with them the longer I stayed in the room. Parents should consider whether their kids under age 13 are ready for the experience. If they are, they’ll probably come away with more knowledge about how the human body works – and perhaps some positive messages about the harm that obesity, smoking and substance abuse can do.

Mackay said he believes the exhibit, running through Oct. 28, will top the performance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which brought in more than 222,000 people in its 102-day run.

So if you go, and you explore the rest of the museum, don’t judge too harshly if you notice a somewhat dated layout or an area that could stand to see physical improvements. Full renovations should come within the next two years if everything goes according to plan, and an expansion is still in the museum’s long-term future, Mackay said.

In the meantime, this spot on North Tryon Street offers plenty for this city to be proud of.

For those who’ve had a chance to explore some of Charlotte’s museums, what’s your favorite museum experience here? Or what should we be aiming to add to our cultural scene? Post here or e-mail me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I emailed Discovery Place and City Council about getting Body Worlds about 10 months ago. I am very glad to hear Body Worlds#1 is coming to town. I just saw Body Worlds #2 in Chicago this spring. It was incredible.
I just hope none of the usual Charlotte protesting crap goes on. It makes our city look so very bad.

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont mind if People want to see this expo but I wish they would quit flashing skinless bodies at the dinner hour; I have lost my appetite twice now , maybe this is a good weight loss progrm for me bada bada bing . jimmy " the earthworm " reporting.

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard there is a Marriot/Ritz Carlton on the way to Chimney rock to explore putting a hig end hotel across from the chimney. I have heard there will be an open veranda where dinner and fine wine will be served and an exclusive one day pass to Chimney rock and its trails; Also , great news for North Carolina wine lovers, The State is exploring the largest wine cellar at the base of Chimney rock to show off our fine wines from every winery; They will include a giant map of every winery in the STATE of N.C. When I lived in California ,many well to do folks, did winery hops and visited the many California wine regions. Chimney Rock may put a tram or monorail up to the Chimeny but that will take some thinking planning.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Adam Butler said...

Mackey hasn't waited for tax money because he charges 7 dollars to park in his parking deck when visiting his museum.

8:55 AM  

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