MOSI: Educators And Entrepreneurs

The Museum of Science and Industry is lucky to have Wit Ostrenko for president – for the same reason that the Florida Aquarium is fortunate to have Thom Stork as its president/CEO. They both know that to be successful you have to be both an educator and an entrepreneur. The former speaks to the why, the latter to the how.

Stork knows, for example, that following a drop of water from its underground source to the open sea is as fascinating as it is important. But without sharks, sting rays and “Explore a Shore” excursions, not enough people will pay to be privy to the critical message about the precious resource – and commodity – that is water. It’s a function of human nature and the marketplace.

MOSI’s never been about science in the abstract. A premium is placed on application – and the interactive. Don’t just talk of gale-force winds, experience them. MOSI’s mantra could be that learning should be fun – and need not be a static activity.

Ostrenko, ironically, is not above taking static himself on occasion. More the pragmatist than the purist, he’s been known to push the envelope for the cause. He sees nothing inherently incompatible with museums and show business. You have to be aggressive, and you have to compete. And at the end of the day, something educational has transpired.

These past few years MOSI has had to weather the hurricane season from hell plus an economic downturn and fallout from terrorist attacks. Not blessed with an endowment or cash reserves, the South’s largest science museum had to lay off employees. It needed an economic jumpstart to keep doing what it does so well.

Cue “Bodies, the Exhibition.”

Ostrenko had taken the initiative, and plans finally fell into place early this summer. The respectful yet controversial exhibit of posed, preserved cadavers – plus more than 200 organs and partial body specimens — is currently playing to record crowds and will run through February.

Not everyone, of course, is comfortable with unclaimed, unidentified bodies as point guards. And undoubtedly the morbidly curious have found their way to MOSI. Then there’s the obscure Florida Anatomical Board that refused to endorse “Bodies.”

When confronted with the unexpected obstacle presented by the Anatomical Board, Ostrenko didn’t blink. MOSI had been above board and ethical – the bodies were legally obtained from China — and state law was unclear. And even if that were to change, it would be after the fact (as in February). Moreover, the controversy only lit a firestorm of local – and even national – publicity. Ostrenko, hardly sound-bite challenged, was center stage; it was all economic upside. The first four days drew more than 12,000 visitors, including nearly 6,000 for the first Saturday.

But for all the chutzpah and controversy, the response has been overwhelmingly positive by the medical and educational communities as well as the general public. Ostrenko is even making sure that information and forms are available regarding the donation of bodies to science and organs to LifeLink of Florida.

At the end of the day, education has, indeed, happened – on several levels.

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