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New North Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe Now Open

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s new North Education Center and its cornerstone permanent exhibition, the Mosaic Backyard Universe, opened to the public for the first time — bringing a new world of fun, interactive exploration to the region’s young learners and the young-at-heart, who feel the joy of discovery in lifelong learning.

Community leaders, families and Museum staff gathered to cut the ribbon on this major expansion and the first official Backyard visitors were dozens of first-graders from Myakka City Elementary, who streamed into the exhibition after officials cut the ribbon.

With a scale model of our solar system, freshwater Pond with native turtles, Science Shed, fossil Dig Pit, Cardboard Rocket, and the life-sized Ralph S. French Charitable Foundation Mighty Oak towering above it all, The Bishop has Southwest Florida’s coolest backyard.

“The Museum’s founders were committed to the community, and we continue that legacy today,” said Brian Carter, chair of The Bishop’s Board of Trustees. “The Bishop is the largest cultural attraction in Manatee County, serving 70,000 people annually, including nearly 10,000 school children from eight Florida counties.”

This expansion marks a new opportunity for natural science education in our community — a transformation that enhances the region’s cultural landscape and allows the community to explore the universe in a remarkable space that offers fresh experiences with each visit.

“This is an incredible milestone for The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature and the community,” said CEO Brynne Anne Besio. “The renovation and expansion that we began planning in 2011 and undertook in earnest with the kickoff of our Connect Capital Campaign in 2015 has resulted in this new permanent exhibition that is a major contribution to the educational landscape of the region. We now have an inventive way to serve younger children and their families – both students and the general public. It will also have big impacts on our community’s tourism and economic sectors. Thanks to the community’s support, we’ve transformed The Bishop and further strengthened our role as a vital and treasured community resource.”

Early support for the expansion came from Mosaic and The Mosaic Company Foundation, which not only encouraged the Museum’s Board to “think big” in terms of planning new programs and spaces to serve the education needs of young children and their families, but also provided important financial support — a $1.3 million grant — that helped get the Connect Campaign under way.

“When the Museum approached us with the opportunity to support the Connect campaign, we were delighted to make a significant contribution—and we encouraged the museum not to think just big, but bigger,” said Ben Pratt, Vice President Corporate Public Affairs and Executive Director, The Mosaic Company Foundation. “The Museum has been a cornerstone of the Manatee County community for generations. The new Mosaic Backyard Universe is an amazing space designed to ignite children’s imaginations and spark a love for the natural world.”

Other strong community support came from:

  • The Manatee County Board of County Commissioners and the Manatee County Tourism Development Council (TDC), in conjunction with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which made a $1 million grant;
  • $10.33 million in donations and grants from private individuals and foundations;
  • $450,000 in grants from the state of Florida;
  • $118,000 in donations from private business.

Construction of the North Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe was part of a larger overall reimagining of the Museum, which included:

  • Planetarium upgrades;
  • Development of the interactive Pathways app;
  • Facility upgrades, including roof, chiller, security cameras and phone system;
  • Planning, architecture and engineering for the Museum campus;
  • Purchase of the DeSoto House to allow for full development of the whole campus;
  • A new name and brand identity — The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature.

Backyard Serves as Educational Resource for Southwest Florida

The expansion includes 12,600 square feet of new and renovated classroom and exhibition space, and adds 12,300 square feet of indoor and outdoor multi-use space. This allows the Museum to provide daily opportunities for public programs like Lunch & Learn, expanded homeschool courses and additional school field trips. It will also be home to collaborative endeavors with the School District of Manatee County and other public schools, private schools and the Early Learning Coalition.

“It is with great excitement that the School District of Manatee County anticipates the opening of the Mosaic Backyard Universe, a developmentally appropriate learning space where early learners can imagine, play, make, and share as they interact with interesting materials and possibilities,” said Dr. Robin Thompson, Director of Early Learning Curriculum at the School District. “The School District of Manatee County has enjoyed a long partnership with The Bishop and looks forward to continuing to partner in our endeavor to make learning relevant in students’ lives.

The Mosaic Backyard Universe incorporates the importance of place, change, life, and interaction in all its components. It serves as a portal for learners of all ages to strengthen their awareness of the world around them and how it functions. Outside of The Bishop, they can draw upon these concepts and make connections to the larger experiences they have at the Museum and beyond, furthering their appreciation for science and nature.

The Backyard also allows people to follow their curiosity and make their own discoveries. To make it accessible to all ages, the Museum took an approach that emphasizes interaction rather than extensive reading. The team developed an environment in which early learners can explore, investigate and discover their own answers, supported by trusted adults.

One of the ways guests can have a different experience each time they visit is to check out Learning Expeditions that further enhance the Backyard experience. These special backpacks hold tools and activities for different topics of scientific inquiry in the Backyard, including:

  • Paleontology
  • Geology
  • Biology
  • Astronomy
  • Engineering

Designed for children and adults to use together, the Learning Expeditions are a fun way to grow skills and knowledge related to each topic, using resources available in the Backyard. Whether they want to explore paleontology in the Dig Pit, astronomy from the Tree House-Platform, or biology in the Pond and Mighty Oak, these kits will help them do that. Learning Expeditions include a variety of activities to try in the Backyard, ways to connect their interest to other areas of the Museum, and ideas for continuing their explorations at home.

The opening of the Backyard has also inspired The Bishop’s education team to expand the Museum’s school field trip offerings. Starting in November, the Museum is offering four different themed field trips for each grade in pre-kindergarten through third grade. The field trip themes are:

  • Life Science
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Physical Science
  • Connections (emphasizing the connections among different sciences)

Field trips have been designed to support age-appropriate developmental skills and State educational standards. Each includes classroom inquiry, interactive exploration in the Backyard and visits to other Museum spaces. Educators facilitate creative exploration while promoting important skills such as questioning, hypothesizing, observing, recording and communicating. The new field trip offerings begin in November.

Community Support Key to Success

The North Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe expansion of The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature was completed under the guidance of Jack Balkan, The Bishop’s Chief Facility Officer, who worked with:

  • Fawley Bryant Architects, the architect of record
  • dmdg2, which helped to design the museum’s new spaces
  • Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc., the construction manager and building contractor
  • Brilliant Creative Fabrication helped design and complete the exhibits within the Backyard (such as the Pond, the Cardboard Rocket, the scale model of the solar system, etc.) and NatureMaker Steel Art Trees hand-crafted the one-of-a-kind Mighty Oak that is the centerpiece of the Backyard.

Matthew Woodside, The Bishop’s Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions, served as project manager for the interior build-out.

“Building the North Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe was truly a community undertaking. There are so many people to thank,” said William Blalock, Chairman of the Connect Capital Campaign. “We received gifts from long-time supporters and new friends that allowed us to undertake this transformative expansion. The Museum has always been an important part of my life — as I’m sure it has for many in our community — and it’s truly exciting to see our plans come to life. We are deeply grateful for the widespread community support we’ve received for this project.”

Visiting the Mosaic Backyard Universe is included in the price of regular admission to The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature. Admission prices, beginning Oct. 1, 2019, are:

  • Adults 18-64: $23.95
  • Seniors (65+): $21.95
  • Youth (12-17) and college students: $17.95
  • Children (5-11): $14.95
  • Children ages 2-4: $8.95
  • Children younger than 2: Free with paying adult

Members of the Discovery Society are always admitted free, as are active members of the U.S. military and Florida teachers. (Teachers and military members must have proper ID.)