How museums can play a role in the fight against future pandemics
CEO of The Exploration Place says her museum helps kids 'catch the science bug'
The doors of The Exploration Place in Prince George are still closed to the public, but its CEO says the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that museums play an important role in preparing society for similar challenges in the future.
Tracy Calogheros, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Science Centres, says when such facilities get involved with kids at an early age, it can steer them toward careers in the STEAM fields — that's science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
"I do think that our museums and our science centres, our galleries, our zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, those are the places that children are getting those first experiences with cultural institutions that are setting them up for a lifetime of success," Calogheros told Daybreak North host Wil Fundal this week.
It may seem like a huge leap to make from a six-year-old thinking about dinosaur bones to research scientists trying to find a cure for a virus, but Calogheros says even something as simple as The Exploration Place's slime-making activities can lead kids to view life through a scientific lens.
"Once you've caught that bug, it's pretty hard to get rid of it," she says. "And that is where you see kids going into medical fields or becoming an astronaut."
Calogheros says The Exploration Place has been unable to reopen so far because of its status as a Class A museum. That means the facility's air handling system is a closed unit that maintains stable heat and humidity levels to protect the museum's artifacts.
"That means I don't have a single window in that building that opens. And when you're talking about the novel coronavirus, you have to consider the fact that it is passable through the air," says Calogheros.
The hands-on interactive exhibits are another potential source of virus transmission, she says. So until they solve the problem of how to open the physical building safely, museum staff are looking at how to keep people engaged in other ways.
"We're spending a lot of time out there in the digital world and we're now expanding that into offering physical programming in other communities and hopefully in schools this fall," she says. "We've engaged more with people online than we normally would see through our doors in a year since we closed the physical building on March 13."
Calogheros says she's learned that such online offerings are something people in Prince George and further afield are hungry for.
"I do think that we will continue to find ways to offer those individualized and personalized digital experiences," she says.
She encourages people to check out the centre's YouTube channel, where they have been doing live videos with experts. The Exploration Place is still planning to go ahead with its Rotten Pumpkin Festival in person on November 1, barring any unforeseen changes.
"You'll be able to fling your rotten pumpkins from our giant catapult," she says. "And hopefully you'll see us in your classes this fall when kids do get back to school."