While hundreds of school groups regularly visit Cranbrook, the general public has yet to discover its 315 bucolic acres at Woodward and Lone Pine Rd.
"There's an impression that we're an exclusive, wealthy place," says Elaine Huemann Gurian, acting director of Cranbrook's Institute of Science.
But now, thanks to Gurian and a new promotional campaign called Destination Cranbrook, visitors will be warmly welcomed with brochures, maps of the campus, and guides who will answer questions and give directions. The museum now has several places to eat, where before there were none. And families are invited to come and simply picnic, bike or hike on the grounds.
"We are now cross-marketing the art museum, the gardens and the science museum so that they are all open during similar hours," says Gurian. "On Friday and Saturday nights, we'll pack picnic dinners and you can come with your family, have dinner, then go to the Beatles laser show."
Gurian is also helping Cranbrook meet a challenge which faces the entire museum industry: Competing with television, movies and other forms of family entertainment.
"The biggest difference between museums of the '50s and those today is that museums, regardless of type, have realized that people have different learning styles." says Gurian. "Reading, writing and looking don't give the museum-goer the complete experience. So all museums, even art museums, have put in other means of understanding."
While science museums, especially those oriented toward children, have always embraced more interactive exhibits, Cranbrook will increase its multisensory presentations. Future traveling exhibits will explore "funky math" and the science of roller coasters using computer animation, mechanical displays and real-life science applications.
Gurian is also superimposing interactive elements on some permanent exhibits, and revamping others with sound, reference materials and hands-on interaction. For example, the mineral collection is now housed in clean, white display cases with glass shelving, like dishes in a fragile china cabinet. Max the Mineral Mutt, a friendly cartoon character, will explain how minerals are formed, how they're used and what accounts for their crystalline form.
But the museum's new addition has caused the most fanfare. Designed by award-winning New York architect Steven Holl, it features a 39-foot-tall entrance with seven types of glass. As the sun moves and seasons change, the glass casts rainbows and designs on the walls, creating a science experiment at the Institute's front door.
A Zen-like water garden in the inner court features water in its three stages: mist, a flowing pond and an ice sculpture (visible only in the winter, of course). Lost World fans will ogle a full-scale skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a replica of a woolly mastodon in the new natural history hall. And the latest traveling exhibit, the Robot Zoo, has families coming in droves.
"If you haven't been to Cranbrook in a long time, you need to come see us in October," says Gurian. "You won't be disappointed."E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org