While showing To the ArcticDiscovery Place Science in Charlotte, North Carolina, became an Arctic Ambassador Center for Polar Bears International. Through a collaborative, interdepartmental effort, Discovery Place Science—led by Director of Science Labs Juliann Chavez—launched programs that celebrate both International Polar Bear Day (February 27) and International Sea Ice Day (July 15). These educational initiatives are aimed at teaching visitors about the problems polar bears are facing and include activities geared toward both adults and children about how to reduce the carbon emissions that threaten sea ice levels and ultimately endanger polar bears’ habitats. Additionally, guests can explore an interactive kiosk that showcases the research of Polar Bears International as well as listen in on a live podcast on the topic from the museum.

To the Arctic was certainly an impetus in launching these programs. While Discovery Place Science often tries to incorporate programming related to all the films they show—especially those related to conservation efforts—this particular film resonated with museum guests. Chavez and other staff members received conservation pledges from children and adults alike, ranging from individual solutions such as turning off lights or walking more frequently to large-scale efforts to reduce energy usage. The programs were so popular that a polar bear exhibit that includes a polar bear skull, claw and GPS tracking collar is now part of the permanent collection on display on the science center floor.

Chavez noted that while films such as To the Arctic can attract visitors to the museum, ultimately resulting in higher attendance and revenue, the film also succeeded in making climate change more accessible and relatable. Citing a National Science Foundation study that discusses the reluctance of some National Parks Service (NPS) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees to discuss climate change with visitors based on perceived apathy or uncertainty, Chavez went on to corroborate the study’s findings: that NPS and FWS—perhaps along with other institutions—“significantly underestimated visitors’ concern for climate change.” While acknowledging that climate change can be a “sensitive” topic for some guests, Chavez believes that most visitors are eager to learn ways in which they can help.

To that end, International Polar Bear Day and International Sea Ice Day educational initiatives continue at Discovery Place Science. Recently, Chavez had an opportunity to attend Climate Alliance, a program that brings together key players from various institutions to save polar bears through reduction of carbon emissions. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity brought Chavez to Churchill, Manitoba—the polar bear capital of the world—to learn about polar bears and their threatened habitat. Her experiences there were instrumental in creating the ongoing educational programs at the museum.

Other giant screen films influence programming, too: Dream Big has inspired the museum’s Year of the Engineer educational programming, and Journey to the South Pacific underlies the activities on World Ocean Day. “We’re always trying to find ways to make our films more impactful for our visitors,” Chavez says. “They add value and make our museum more efficient at communicating difficult scientific content.”

For more information about the educational programming at Discovery Place Science, contact Juliann Chavez at juliannc@discoveryplace.org. For information regarding Polar Bears International, contact Program Manager Marissa Krouse at marissa@pbears.org.

Written by Brianne Brown with coordination by Wendy Grant, both from Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California

GSCA will be hosting a webinar with Discovery Place Science this summer featuring their year-long engineering program launched in conjunction with the film Dream Big. We'll announce the date and time soon. Stay tuned!