New Discovery World fosters grown-up creativity, DIY movement
Podcast: Paul Krajniak talks about change at Discovery World
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If you thought Discovery World was a place for kids -- like I did -- it's time to give the lakefront institution another look.
With a rapid prototyping center, a video/TV production studio, an audio studio, a printing and publishing lab, a biology lab, salt and fresh water aquariums, maritime exhibits and more, Discovery World isn't necessarily the place to bring junior after a visit to Betty Brinn across the street.
"The idea of this being a science museum is kind of a past concept," says Executive Director Paul Krajniak. "Since it's all white and placed to connect you with the real discovery world -- the one out there," he says gesturing out across the lake, "it's not really a museum.
"So what do you call this place?," he asks, turning to Ross Lowinske, Discovery World's new marketing director, searching for answer.
"It's a center for imagination, a center for creativity," chimes Lowinske.
Although Discovery World has set its sights on the 17- through 27-year-old crowd, it is clearly a place for everyone. Younger kids might not grasp the big concepts or completely process all the applications, but the big boats -- the recreated Challenge schooner inside and the seaworthy Denis Sullivan floating outside -- will make them ooh and the colorful fish, sea horses and rays in the aquarium will make them aah. And along the way, they're sure to learn a little something.
An educational component has always been key at Discovery World, Krajniak says, but that means teaching in a way that most schools still don't.
"We have spent a lot of time teaching children. So much emphasis was placed on science illiteracy that we put a lot of energy there and what we found out was that if you only taught science in isolation, all students would plateau. Even the good students, there would be only 10 percent of them that would be interested.
"But if I taught a person that was interested in writing, science through that aspect, if I taught it through art, if I taught it through things that people were interested in generally, then all of a sudden the grades went up and the interest level went way up. And it seems so common sense."
And so, when the Milwaukee Public Museum expressed interest in obtaining Discovery World's adjacent space, Krajniak and his staff had the opportunity to think big. Or should we say, re-think big?
The result is not only a stunningly sited building that straddles the lake and land, but sits adjacent to the Milwaukee Art Museum and across from Betty Brinn, creating what Krajniak calls a "continuum of innovative people."
Discovery World has expanded into a bigger home and into a world of podcasting classes and Great Lakes science and history -- and now it woos the martini set – but the mission really hasn't changed much since opening in 1982.
"I think that in the early days it was more of an interactive science and technology museum but it always had this economics and entrepreneurship aspect which gave us the key to making things more about how you make things happen rather than looking at what other people did," Krajniak says.
That concept is aflame as you walk through the 120,000-sq. ft., nearly $64 million building. It is a haven for hands-on philosophy. There are some "exhibits" in the traditional sense, sure. But look around and you'll see that visitors gravitate toward getting their hands dirty, so to speak.
Upstairs, there's a big group of seniors exploring the deck of the Challenge. In the bi-level technology exhibits, kids are transfixed by working models of MAM's Quadracci Pavilion and Miller Park as well as by the Dream Machine, which allows visitors to bring their ideas to life via prototyping technology.
And the studios and labs -- which are used for classes for kids, adults, school groups and families -- are proving to be very popular.
"You want to be part of the DIY movement?" asks Krajniak, "We have nine studios and labs here. If you want to learn how to write or be a journalist and put out your own 'zine or build your own Web site, those tools are here. If you want to understand water chemistry and actually be trained by somebody who is (an) expert, that's here, too. So, it's really an educational engine. It's a university in flight."
The Discovery World staff keeps an eye out to see what works, Krajniak says, and the place is constantly morphing.
"(It is) always meant to change and that's one of the most difficult things that we have to communicate, besides the fact that we're for adults, is that we're about change. We're about process. So this place will never stop changing. The idea (is) that an exhibit, you'll always see it in process. As soon as it becomes done, it becomes the past. And then we need to change it out."
Discovery World is spinning so many plates simultaneously that it's hard to imagine that change is anything but inevitable.
Collaborations with Milwaukee Public Television and the new Lakeshore State Park are on tap. Milwaukee-area high school students are constantly being rotated down to the Caribbean to work and learn about the Denis Sullivan. Classes are cycling non-stop in the labs and studios. The stunning Pilot House room -- with its 360-degree view of Downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan -- and a pair of digital theaters are hosting events.
Frankly, after exploring the museum in detail, I still feel like I've only scratched the surface.
You know, I think visiting any infotainment destination, whether Discovery World, the Milwaukee Art Museum, or other museums in the city, comes down to expectations. If you expect to be passive and wowed by something your dont understand, or to let the kids hang on the exhibits or press the buttons until they wreck them (as I witnessed on the opening weekend of Discovery World), or to impress the grand parents or out of town visitors who have to do all that walking, then perhaps you are visiting the wrong place. But you know, that admission surcharge will help recover the cost of the damage your kids did for future visitors and others with more compatible expectations who will replace you. I bet that it would be unthinkable for you to complain that the grotesque featured paintings by Francis Bacon at MAM (with its comparable admissions) werent art, or for you to let your kids rampage the exhibits, etc. If, however, you appreciate interaction and opportunity to both learn and experience new things, like my 14 year old daughter, you might have a different reaction than the previous writer. Taking a public city bus (or being dropped of by a parent), bringing a lunch or some cash for a snack, and sporting her $15 Student membership card (good for 18 months of free visits when she purchased it), my daughter can roam freely through the site, participate in a lab activity or two (she especially enjoys the printing and prototyping labs), socialize with her friends on the promenade, on any free weekend. It seems like a deal to me (and her). I confess, I shelled out the $15. Our family membership (a mere 45 bucks), purchased last summer, let us attend Discovery World on various occasions, hear a number of lectures by world-class scientists and thinkers, watch a couple of movies, and tour the Dennis Sullivan. Besides, without paying a cent, we listened to three simulcasts from their theatre presented through their partnership with WMSE 91.7 FM (War of the Worlds, Macbeth, and Negativland). I would suggest that visitors to Discovery World consider their personal motivations and expectations, do a little research, and like Mr. Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee, see what is there without bringing their prejudices and unrealistic expectations without looking to place blame on other people. Thats what we did. And were actually glad that Discovery World had the foresight to evolve beyond being a playground for ten year olds. It make us feel like Milwaukee might actually be moving beyond the stereotypes. Thomas G.
Discovery World? Disaster World! One of the worst museums I have ever been to including everyone I know who has tried to go visit this horrific place and shelled out almost $100 for a group of 5. I would say definitely DO NOT GO and make sure you do not bring out of town guests. The actual museums and exhibits are an embarrassment to the city and all the success we have had since the resurgence of the early 1990s. If you think the Milwaukee Public Museum scandal was bad wait a year or two until you see the fall out from this. My guess is Discovery World as we know it and the management team will no longer exist. If you do fall for the trap makes sure you let everyone know what a joke this museum is. If you want to call it that. Otherwise if you want to pay $17 to go look around a well designed building I suggest keep the money and walk to the Art Museum which I am sure you have seen a couple times already. But it will still be worth the experience and you can probably get 3 or 4 people in for the amount of one admission to Disaster World. I also question the integrity of this story and the editor. To write an article supporting and encouraging people to visit this place. Without any mention of the pricing that probably wont allow 70% of Milwaukees families to afford admission. Let alone paying that much to realize they are seeing a Museum that is constantly morphing. Which of course is just a made up marketing term to mean unfinished and poorly planned. I have always been a big fan of Onmilwaukee.com but always thought their undying support for certain things were way too subjective. In this case that is an understatement. You can make up any excuse you would like. But it is clear if you cant afford it dont open it. Otherwise it is very clear all Disaster World had to do was market the Museum with a Pardon our dust but please come check us out for half price. Even an introduction of what could be. But months later nothing. No apologies just more bogus excuses from the executive who you feel is selling you a way to keep his job. All of this is very unfortunate because Michael Cudahy, The City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and everyone else involved all had great intentions and put a tremendous amount of effort to try a make another beautiful magnet for the City of Milwaukee. The blame needs to go to the Executive Director on down to the management of the Museum. But what ever you do please make sure we do not let them keep this an embarrassment to our great city. Robert K
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