How The Witte Museum Reaches Out Even While Closed
One of the state's premier Natural History Museums, the Witte, is closed like all the others. It’s caused them to rethink how they do what they do, and be creative with solutions.
Three years ago the Witte re-opened after a $100 million, 174,000 square-foot expansion. CEO Marise McDermott says the Witte was built to handle crowds.
"We have, you know, anywhere from 500 to 2,000 people here in the spring a day, particularly school students," she said.
A special bus lane allows for the smooth exit into the facility uniquely qualified to help kids understand their place in the natural world. But with COVID-19, the natural world is now behaving unlike it ever has before in their lifetimes.
"It was not difficult to decide to close. And it was the right and safe thing to do," she said.
The question then is, how can the Witte continue to connect with people? McDermott says the answer was quickly arrived at.
"Our educators and our curators were already geared up, and our interactors were already ready," McDermott said.
If you’re wondering what an interactor is, she had an easy explanation.
"Interactors are our professional actors who are trained in the education curriculum at the museum, and so are our interactors are also educators," she said.
Each of the interactors helps breathe humanity into subjects that would otherwise be inanimate. Each of the actors has a persona they speak from, and a specialty they address.
"Captain Calcium or Cowboy Jeremy or Dr. Dig or whatever the personas are for the topics in nature, science and culture," she said.
Now, since kids can't interact with these characters in person, the Witte has built a website called The Witte Where You Are, and these interactors bring science and history into kids' homes by video.
"Each episode is based on K through 12 curriculum, and it's Texas essential skills based knowledge so that it's called informal education,” she said. “It supplements, or it underscores formal education guidelines."
She says they have 23 videos already produced and expects to continue adding to Witte Where You Are as long is COVID-19 has the museum locked down.
"I tell you, it's really rough in museums all over the country right now," she said.