Batman’s Cape, the Law of Gravity, and the Future of American Science Museums
PMA’s thoughts and prayers are with the families of those lost through the tragedy in Aurora, CO last week.
This past weekend, The Dark Knight Rises – the hotly anticipated final chapter in the trilogy helmed by director Christopher Nolan – took home $160 million in gross receipts. For some audience members, it was likely the first time they visited their local Science Museum, where an IMAX theatre provided an up-close and personal experience with the caped crusader. It is a wildly popular attraction – the last film’s The Dark Knight: IMAX Experience accounted for more than $55 million of the roughly $530 million domestic take, or more than 10%.
Mention The Dark Knight at a science museum with an IMAX theatre and you are likely to receive a mixture of responses. While a tremendously popular attraction and a driver of ticket sales and increased revenues, the question of whether such entertainment options are “mission focused” underlines a critical question facing science museums across the country – what is their purpose? There are many challenges for science museums in the 21st Century, including the rise of the Internet, increased pressures on leisure time, economic challenges of fundraising and generating earned revenue, and the changing demographics of urban and suburban populations.
PMA has found science museums typically balance three key roles:
- Driver of STEM Education: Often working in conjunction with the public school system and other community partners, your local science museum has a role of championing STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), particularly for younger student populations. How are museums to weather the changing educational climate?
- Provider of “Edu”-tainment Experiences: Increasingly, science museums are also seen as an entertainment attraction. But how far away from “science” should the museum go? (You may recall your local planetarium’s Pink Floyd Laser Light Shows?)
- Economic Catalyst in Urban Revitalization: For many science museums, their founding was based on a desire to revitalize blighted urban areas, or as a means to drive an economic goal. Decades later, how can science museums continue to drive local economies?
Ah, but what about Batman’s cape? PMA wonders what the coefficient of friction must be to slow his descent from Gotham City skyscrapers… perhaps a question for your nearest science museum educator!