8 minute read

They say the best science is never finished.

No solution is absolute. No discovery is final. In good science, every result should always lead to further questions, further research, further discoveries.

It’s in that exact same spirit that beloved OKC institution Science Museum Oklahoma is always changing. Never content to rest on their laurels and years of love from the community, the team at SMO is always forging ahead, constantly brainstorming new ideas for exhibits, events, and most importantly, interactivity.

“Great team”

“It’s all about just having a great team that can come up with some really incredible ideas and then can actually figure out how to realize them,” said Linda Maisch, Vice President of Community Engagement for the museum. “We only have around 170 people on staff, including everyone on the floor and everyone behind the scenes. It’s actually a really small staff for a museum this size.”

Having such a relatively small staff, Maisch said, means that they can all stay better in touch and that communication is not only easier but more essential.

“We definitely all have to work together,” she told me. “We’ll all get out on the floor together to move and rearrange stuff.”

Funding challenges

Part of the reason for the Science Museum keeping such a bare-bones crew is admittedly financial. While most of their funding comes from a generous endowment, and while they are always raising money through fundraising events, donations, and of course their regular ticket sales and admission fees, it might come as a surprise to know that this long-standing icon of OKC’s culture and academia currently receives no state or federal funding.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that we don’t get any government grant money,” Maisch explained. “We’ve received some in the past, and we’re always applying, but there’s just not a lot of state funding to go around in Oklahoma right now.”

Constant evolution

That hasn’t slowed or dissuaded them from their goal of constant evolution, however. The museum has expanded, rearranged, and updated a remarkable amount over the past few years.

First and foremost is CurioCity, a huge, multi-faceted area of exploration loaded with endlessly interactive exhibits designed entirely for early childhood visitors that was completed and opened to the public in 2015. As one of the lead designers and creative forces behind the addition, Maisch refers to CurioCity as her baby.

“It’s roughly 20,000 square feet,” she said. “Even fully contained inside the museum here, it’s actually larger than most entire children’s museums anywhere in the country.”

Though it’s clear that a lot of time, energy, and love has gone into making SMO fun and appealing for young children that are just developing an interest in the workings of the world, Maisch is quick to explain that the team’s goal is to cover the full range of ages and interests, from early childhood to teenagers all the way to grandma and grandpa.

“A lot of effort goes into making sure that everyone has something here to hold their attention and have fun,” Maisch said. “If a family comes in and brings a couple kids of different ages and the older kid gets bored while the younger kid is exploring, then the older kid suddenly directs the entire visit. So it’s our goal to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

It’s that goal that is always pushing them to expand and develop all of the museum’s various areas and exhibits, from the “Tinkering Garage,” where older kids can learn all about building and creating gadgets with real, hands-on mechanical items, to “Destination Space,” where children will find loads of space-themed games and activities while adults find real-life relics and mementos of the Space Race and OK’s own celebrated astronautic history. 

That’s not to mention the “Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame” and other art and history-oriented areas perfect to occupy adult guests or the countless age-old exhibits across the “Science Floor” that any former visitor will instantly recognize.

Sherlock Holmes: The Exhibit

SMO doesn’t often take on many temporary or traveling exhibits, but sometimes there’s an offer just too good to pass up. That’s how they got the chance to host “Sherlock Holmes: The Exhibit.”

Originally intended for a full national tour, the European-designed exhibit saw all of its other engagements canceled or postponed due to COVID. This opened the door for Science Museum Oklahoma to not only be the nation’s one and only stop, but also to continue hosting the exhibit far longer than expected. Where it was scheduled to close in September, they’ve actually been able to keep it on through the end of the year, still opening it up to any amateur crime-solvers and murder mystery aficionados on weekends and during museum events.

“With so much shut down here and worldwide, it really became a question of whether they wanted to pay to keep it in storage or pay to keep it here and let people enjoy it,” Maisch said of the decision by the exhibit’s owners to let SMO retain the sprawling installation well past schedule.

“Sherlock Holmes: The Exhibit” is decidedly designed for a mature audience, with its focus on murder and some of the more morbid elements of Victorian science, but, true to their goal, the SMO team has found ways to keep the kids entertained at the same time.

“We realized pretty quickly that younger kids wouldn’t get much out of the Holmes exhibit, so that’s when we decided to add the scavenger hunt inside it,” explained Maisch. “We hid little stuffed dogs in places all over the exhibit for kids to search for and find, so they could have fun, and also as a nod to ‘Hound of the Baskervilles.’”

Even now, as we’re still facing the uncertainty and confusion of a worldwide pandemic and looming recession headed into the holidays, Science Museum Oklahoma is still pushing ahead, never stopping its evolution or halting its forward momentum.

Maisch is visibly excited discussing all of the museum’s upcoming plans. 

There’s the massive planetarium renovation project that will see the currently defunct Omnidome repurposed into a brand new state-of-the-art planetarium housing one of the world’s best digital programs (the result of a major donation made by an incredibly generous anonymous donor,) as well as the next installment of the museum’s adults-only series “SMO 21.” This time, the 21-and-over crowd will be treated to loads of Halloween-themed horrors, such as bleeding walls and something they’re calling “chainsaw self-defense.”

But of all the projects and exhibits on the horizon, there is one that is clearly very special to Maisch and the whole team.

“At the end of this month, we’ll be opening a brand new exhibit all about empathy,” she said. “In this day and age, I can’t think of anything more important to teach.”

For tickets, schedules, upcoming events, and all other information visit sciencemuseumok.org.

Last Updated October 15, 2021, 6:54 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor