Monday, June 24, 2024

What Just Happened to the Ontario Science Centre?

The short story. The Ontario Science Centre was forced to close by the Ontario government on Friday, June 21, 2024.

The slightly less short story. Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government decided to abruptly close the Ontario Science Centre as part of its larger plan for OSC. As reported by the CBC, the Ford government already planned to move the Science Centre from its current location to a redeveloped Ontario Place site, next to a planned spa being built by Austrian company Therme, an expanded Live Nation concert venue, as well as new public space and beaches. Under those plans, the Science Centre building won't open up until 2028.

Many reasonable people question the motivations for these plans.  To quote Alex Bozikovic, Architecture Critic for The Globe and Mail, "This closing is a choice. It is a deeply cynical political manoeuvre based on a bogus reading of an engineer's report. The Ford government wanted to close the Science Center, so it did."

The slightly longer story. Who knows what happens next?  Even if the current Ontario Science Centre got served lemons, perhaps they can use this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves as a new type of interactive science museum, building upon their 50+ years of experience at their original site.

The real longer story (for the rest of the field.) There is a whole cadre of large science centers that sprung into being in the later half of the 20th century. These science centers may, in fact, be too large to serve their original purposes effectively. Dealing with a large physical plant inherently makes the mission of a modern, interactive museum much more difficult and the organization less nimble.

What lessons can we learn by looking at museums like the Milwaukee Public Museum, which is intentionally "downsizing" as it moves to its new home? Or the Rubin Museum, which has decided to jettison its physical NYC museum building altogether in order to present exhibitions and programs worldwide?

Of course, I wish the OSC staff (and the citizens of the Toronto region!) much good luck as they figure out the path forward to a new (and different?) interactive, community-oriented science/education institution.

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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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