Visitors to Minnetrista, a cultural center in Muncie, Ind., enter The Bone Zone Carnival of Healthy Choices through imposing double glass doors. A skeleton with an elegant top hat and megaphone greets them: "Ladieees and gentlemen, boys and girls! Step right up and marvel at the astounding things that await you…"
The bony ringmaster is a sign of the colorful creativity to come. After visitors have interacted with eight hands-on displays and a feet-on dance floor, they've grasped the carnival's message: The calcium-rich foods and weight-bearing activities they enjoy now can help them avoid future health issues.
Learning Disguised as Fun
Purdue professors and Extension specialists in foods and nutrition provided the content, and staff from Purdue Agriculture's Exhibit Design Center designed, built, marketed and installed The Bone Zone. It feels more like fun than learning, say the schoolchildren who pass through, and they remember its lessons—like the predictions of the mysterious Madame Ulna, a gypsy skeleton with a crystal ball. She tells young soccer players and dancers: "I see happy bones in your future. When you run and jump, your bones get stronger." She cautions those who choose video games instead, "Oh, darling. I see very fast thumbs, but very weak bones in your future if you don't get off the couch!"
"It's been received very well," says Steven Beverly, Minnetrista's marketing manager. "We have used Purdue exhibits before. They're very high quality, with good content. This one travels well, and the systems work."
Purdue's Traveling Exhibit Program was formally established in 2008. Agriculture teams produced museum-quality exhibits prior to that, mainly for the Indiana State Fair. At fair's end, they were usually consigned to dusty warehouses.
The university's emphasis on outreach, and the quality and relevance of the exhibits, offered an opportunity to market Purdue's expertise to smaller museums. Rental fees in turn fund new projects. Gretchen Bertolet, traveling exhibit marketing coordinator, uses her network of colleagues and professional organizations to generate interest in Purdue-built exhibits among children's, science, natural history and technology museums nationwide.
Purdue Agriculture's Exhibit -The Bone Zone Carnival of Healthy Choices
Bertolet says her foot in the door is "the affiliation with a great research university and the cachet of Purdue. Then it's all about good customer service."
The North Museum of Natural History & Science in Lancaster, Pa., rented What's Bugging Belva—a smaller garden tour of sorts that highlights the beauty and functions of insects. "The exhibit is nicely designed and accessible to little ones," says Margie Marino, North Museum's executive director. "It has all the elements that our youngest visitors need to see bugs in a whole new way."
Behind the Scene
Purdue unveiled one of its newest creations at the Indiana State Fair last August: Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses focuses on three dogs and a horse treated at the Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital for cancer, spinal cord injury, obesity and asthma. The exhibit explores advances in veterinary medicine and how lessons in the treatment of animals may improve human medicine. Interactive exhibits based on two of these animal patients will be at Minnetrista this summer.
The skeleton ringmaster and the rest of the carnival crew from The Bone Zone continue their road show this summer, entertaining and educating visitors at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind.