I went to a great on-site insight session today at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Roland Wall, director of ANSPs Center for Environmental Policy explained their Town Square project. This is a great initiative exemplifying the evolving role of the museum. Founded in 1812 by gentlemen naturalists as (as Roland put it) a place to “do their science and store their stuff,” ANSP is now leading the way in a collaborative effort to develop a sustainable, ecologically healthy and environmentally equitable Philadelphia.
Founded in 2003-04, the purpose of the Town Square project is to expand ANSP’s audience and make science more relevant to that audience. With start-up funding of $150,000 the Town Square project has held 91 forums, serving 14,000 attendees. It’s not a money maker—these are free events held on weekday evenings, drawing anywhere fro 40 to 400 participants. (Regarding attracting audience, Roland’s advice is “having decent refreshments is more effective than paying for advertising.”) Rather than using speakers bureaus, they work their connections to attract free/affordable speakers who want to share their knowledge. ANSP wants to influence important decisions about Philadelphia’s future and change people’s behavior by developing environmental citizenship. It seems the work of the Center for Environmental Policy is timely and effective—Mayor Nutter just announced a “Greenworks Philadelphia” plan to make Philly the nation’s greenest city by 2015.
ANSP sees themselves as inventing a new role for natural history museums in the 21st century, and I think they are doing a grand job of it!