With more than 150 interactive exhibits, thought-provoking larger-than-life IMAX films, and fun, hands-on educational programming, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center aspires to increase science literacy among the people of south Alabama and the Gulf Coast region, residents and visitors alike.
By sparking imagination, creating curiosity and instilling a sense of wonder in the world, the Exploreum has been a cornerstone of informal learning on the Gulf Coast since its inception more than 30 years ago. With the continued support of the community – visionary civic leaders, generous donors, contributing members and volunteers – the Exploreum is able to bring the world of science to the Gulf Coast.
In addition to fulfilling its worthwhile mission, the Exploreum actively contributes to Mobile by stimulating economic growth in the area. According to recent studies, in 2005 the Exploreum generated an economic impact totaling $12 to $15 million during the international traveling exhibit The Dead Sea Scrolls – a figure that benefits the city, the county, and multiple education and tourism partners, including schools, hotels, restaurants and area attractions. In 2008, the Exploreum hosted OUR BODY: The Universe Within, which had visitors from all 50 states and 24 countries and a nearly $7 million economic impact.
Recognizing an opportunity to improve the community through science-based educational programming, The Junior League of Mobile provided funding for research and development of a hands-on interactive museum for the children of Mobile in 1976.
With this initial commitment, the seeds of scientific learning were sown as The Explore Center, Inc., a private non-profit 501 (c)(3) educational incorporation, and a Board of Trustees were created.
The community responded to this endeavor with enthusiasm: The Mobile, A.S. Mitchell Foundation donated the historic Bragg-Mitchell Mansion and the surrounding 12-acre site to be used as the museum. But the Board of Trustees could not bring themselves to adapt the 1855 structure and potentially destroy the integrity of the antebellum mansion, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Instead, they raised $1.3 million to build a 10,000 square foot contemporary building on the same acreage, and the Gulf Coast Exploreum “Museum of Science” was opened in 1983.
In less than four years, the Exploreum had outgrown the Springhill Avenue location prompting the Board of Trustees to begin an evaluation process to determine how to best meet the needs of the community while fulfilling the Exploreum’s educational mission.
In 1987, a Relocation Committee determined that Mobiles historic downtown area would be well suited for an expanded, state-of-the-art science center and IMAX theater. The site chosen for the family attraction was the National Historic Landmark Matt Sloan Fire Station, and a 1950s police building, which was demolished to accommodate the new Exploreum.
A capital campaign was launched, and philanthropic commitments were procured from officials at the city, county and federal level, as well as corporate and individual sponsors.
After 11 years of planning and fundraising, and three years of contruction, the new Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and J.L. Bedsole IMAX Dome Theater celebrated its grand opening in 1998 at 65 Government Street.
Situated in the heart of the historic district of Mobile between Royal and Water streets, the design of the new Exploreum represents the architectural context of surrounding facilities, but does not reproduce it. A common palette of proportions and materials, such as gabled roofs, wooden eaves and cave fascias, stucco walls, a copper dome roof and a modern interpretation of the historic eave brackets, links the old and the new. In fact, the copper fireman’s poles were kept intact and are visible from Minds On Hall, Wharf of Wonder, as well as the classroom and conference room.
More than a decade later, the Exploreum continues to set the bar for educational outreach, providing hands-on learning experiences for the young and the young-at-heart and promoting the virtues of lifelong learning and curiosity. The Exploreum will continue to grow with the community and bring new and exciting experiences for all ages.