Forget the stereotype of the stuffy, don’t-touch-the-art, kid-unfriendly museum. Interactive museums can be entertaining, engaging and educational — even for a generation of kids raised on Nintendo DS.
The days of "look, but don’t touch" are being cast aside as museums strive to compete with theme parks. And in a time of shrinking entertainment budgets, museums offer great alternatives to cartoon characters, long lines and sticky roller coaster seats. Museums — by and large — are inexpensive destinations, as the admission at many museums is either cheap or free.
Each day, about 2.3 million visitors in the US walk the halls and walkways of American museums and zoos. It’s clear that people want something more than a passive stroll through the portrait gallery: Attendance-wise, zoos lead the way, with nearly half a million visitors daily, and science and technology museums run a somewhat distant second.
Whether it’s comparing your hand to a gorilla’s paw at the San Diego Zoo or ducking through a German U-boat‘s tight quarters at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, people want to step beyond the velvet rope and become part of history, science and the world.
So, with summer in full swing, here’s a short (but nowhere near exhaustive) list of great museums with engaging, interactive exhibits.
International Spy Museum,
Washington, D.C. The International Spy Museum is the first and only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on this all-but-invisible profession. It features the largest collection of international spy-related artifacts ever placed on public display. The stories of individual spies, told through film, interactives and state-of-the-art exhibits, provide a dynamic context to foster an understanding of espionage and its impact on current and historic events.
Newseum, Washington, D.C. The
Newseum offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits. It offers a unique environment that takes museum-goers behind the scenes to experience how and why news is made. According to Newseum Executive
Director and Senior Vice President, Joe Urschel, "The new Newseum is educational, inspirational and a whole lot of fun."
The College Basketball Experience,
Kansas City, MO. Home to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of
Fame, the CBE encourages visitors to break a sweat by shooting three-pointers, measuring their rebounding ability and shooting free throws in a simulated hostile arena. When visitors run out of gas, they can compare their shoe size to some of the game’s greats, hear where
Dean Smith got his start or try their hand at ESPN commentary behind the ESPN media desk.
Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA (updated – thanks Scott!). As they say, the Museum of Glass is a hot
destination. The Museum of Glass offers a wide range of glass work from world recognized glass artisans. But the always running Hot Shop, housed in the museum’s 90 foot cone, offers visitors a front-row demonstration in every step of the glass-making process. Visitors even have the opportunity to participate.
Francisco, CA. Within the walls is a collage of hundreds of science, art and human perception exhibits. The museum stands in the vanguard of the movement of the "museum as educational center." The
Exploratorium is an experimental, hands-on museum designed to spark curiosity — regardless of your age or familiarity with science. There are hundreds of exhibits to touch, pick up and tinker with. Your curiosity can be your compass to endless discoveries!
Interactive museums have definitely made great strides in encouraging visitors to think and turned learning into a wonderful and fun experience. These are just a few of the many, many museums shaking things up. Do you have a favorite interactive museum or exhibit? Let us know!