Don’t be surprised if next summer your kids are clamoring for you to take them to the museum.
Chances are it will have a little something to do with an innovative $5 million activity center at the Witte funded by H-E-B, the University Health System and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, among others.
Once complete in May 2014, the H-E-B Body Adventure will serve as a highly interactive, educational space that encourages movement, wellness and a balanced lifestyle.
In addition to the 20-foot climbing wall, SkyCycle, and electronic game field that are already part of the Science Treehouse, the renovation will add virtual cycling, bodyweight challenges, video analysis, a demo kitchen and an animated game which helps users build healthy meals. That’s on top of hands-on exhibits geared toward anatomy, physiology and nutrition.
And that’s just the beginning.
Visitors can sign in and select one of 12 Adventure Buddies who will serve as virtual guides through various activities. The Adventure Buddies are actual members of the community who each have an inspirational story and a special connection to health and fitness.
Along the way, patrons can also pick up a PowerPass card that helps them track their progress at the Adventure Center and chart their history online.
“This is a revolutionary model of transformative experiences to empower behavioral change for healthier lives,” said Marise McDermott, president and CEO of the Witte Museum. “We are breaking new ground in the museum world by launching a social change model focusing on health IQ, empowerment and wellness with exhibitions that are high-tech, interactive and tackle head-on the serious health issues endemic to children and adults in an age of sedentary lifestyles and processed foods.”
The project has been in the works since 2007 and is the result of years of planning, research and partnerships with numerous consultants and leading experts in education, museum sciences, healthcare and the community at large.
“All our data was showing that what was needed for improved health was a community based cultural shift, and that the family and social environment was critical for this,” said Bryan Bayles, Ph.D., MPH, and curator of anthropology and health at the Witte, who helped lead the initiative. “We needed something rooted in the community, and when you look at our history, unique location and demographics, it was a great fit.”
The Witte has been around for nearly 90 years and sits on the banks of the San Antonio River at the edge of Brackenridge Park and along the Broadway corridor — an area that’s undergone significant urban development as of late. It serves roughly 400,000 visitors a year, almost half of those are school-age children.
Aside from offering a nontraditional experience for museum visitors, one of the broader goals of the project, Bayles said, was to tie the entire area together and encourage folks to get back out and move and explore. The on-site vegetable and herb gardens, Tai Chi equipment and nearby B-Cycle station, which are all already in place, help foster that larger goal.
“In the public health community, we can easily prescribe change, but what we really need are places and programs that inspire change,” Bayles said, an active hiker and yoga practitioner. “We want this to be one of those places – we want it to be positive and encouraging, and about getting active and making small, sustainable changes. And we want it to be fun too.”
You can get your share of fun by visiting the Witte Museum anytime, but do note that beginning on Jan. 6, the 15,000 square-foot Science Treehouse will close before it officially re-opens as the Body Adventure center on May 24.
Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His weekly column covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.