MOSI is a place where families can connect with the past, present and future, whether it’s walking among the dinosaurs at the new summer exhibit, Dinosaurs Around the World, or soaring to the stars as they play in the Moonbase. That’s just the start of the hands-on adventures. As MOSI looks to the future and celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, a new leader is helping to pave the way. We’re getting to know MOSI’s new President and CEO, John Graydon Smith, who also happens to be a busy dad of three.
TBPM: First–tell us about yourself…as dad! You must earn cool dad points for your roles as a museum leader!
John Graydon Smith: I’ve been working in museums and science centers since before I first became a dad, so my kids have always only known the “STEAM” life as it were. There are some perks for the kids, Reilly (13), Reeve (11) and Graydon (8) to having a dad work in this field, like early previews of cool new exhibits, but there can be drawbacks too. Since I bring them to summer camp with me, for example, they get to spend the pre-camp hours cleaning up exhibits from the previous day’s visitors, so it isn’t all fun and games.
TBPM: You have an extensive background in leading museums and science museums. How do you hope to take that experience to continue to build upon MOSI’s success?
John Graydon Smith: I’ve been in museums since 2006 and in the non-profit arena for another decade beyond that. The plan is to call upon all that experience to help balance MOSI’s needs for growth in our visitor experiences with the equally pressing need of sustainability for the future. Historically, MOSI has been great at providing a world-class experience for visitors, both locals and tourists. Unfortunately, it grew too fast and spread too far in my opinion, and that is what ultimately led to some lean years for the operation. My job is to find MOSI’s “sweet spot” in terms of size, scale and scope and ensure we have the resources from our community to keep serving that community.
TBPM: What do you think makes MOSI so special to our community and what does the future look like?
John Graydon Smith: MOSI has been, in my opinion, a real cultural leader for the Tampa community for several decades. It may be hard to believe, but MOSI is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, which is an impressive run for a science center given all of the evolution and innovation that has happened in the industry during that time. Although there have been some setbacks in recent years, the future for MOSI is just as bright as the future is for everything else in the Tampa Bay area. The growth in our region really dictates that we have to have a world-class science center, and MOSI is positioned—both geographically and metaphorically—to serve the community as it continues to grow. By continuing to focus on our customers’ needs and interests and supplementing the work done by our local schools and the formal educational system, MOSI has the opportunity to be the place for STEAM education for families across our region.
TBPM: There’s a new exhibit at MOSI, Dinosaurs Around the World. What can we expect when we go? Any tips on how to explore this exhibit with our kids?
John Graydon Smith: “Dinosaurs Around the World” is a paleontological journey back to the supercontinent of Pangea. Using the latest technology in animatronics, MOSI visitors will get to engage in a globetrotting expedition through an immersive environment that was millions of years in the making. With dinosaurs continuing to be such a popular topic for amateur scientists of all ages, this exhibit is the perfect way to reintroduce MOSI to our community this summer, and visitors will discover that the entire museum experience is geared around the dinosaur theme, so even our art and technology interactives have been refreshed for this summer’s adventures.
TBPM: What kind of programming can we expect to go along with Dinosaurs Around the World?
John Graydon Smith: There will be a true focus on the areas of paleontology and geology, using a combination of expert scientists, hands-on interactives and immersive experiences to provide MOSI’s “edu-tainment” product to visitors from toddlers through adulthood. A full schedule of related programming is planned, and details will be continually updated on www.MOSI.org.
TBPM: Summer break is a great time to continue to learn. What other ways can families take advantage of special programming at MOSI?
John Graydon Smith: Summer is really the time when MOSI comes to life. Each week during the school summer break, we’ll be hosting at least nine camps for kids who are between kindergarten and eighth grade, with most weeks selling out before summer even starts! Each camp includes a variety of science and technology themes, ranging from chemistry to coding, game design to medicine, cooking to construction. There are several themed weeks focusing on Harry Potter, Minecraft and Star Wars among many others, and we also offer many full-family opportunities on the weekends that feature our backwoods areas for some outdoor adventures.
TBPM: What are you looking forward to the most as a family as you begin to explore Tampa Bay?
John Graydon Smith: Just like most people relocating to Tampa Bay, my family is looking forward to sending pictures of ourselves poolside in February to friends and family who haven’t (yet) decided to move here! Seriously though, the area has so much to offer families that our list will take years to work through. My wife and kids are very excited about the proximity to Clearwater Beach, and I’m excited about exploring MOSI’s reciprocal benefits with other area attractions and venues like the Florida Aquarium, and catching Lightning and Bucs games!
TBPM: Anything else you want to add that you think our readers would like to know about you and your plans for MOSI’s future?
John Graydon Smith: I hope that MOSI’s current members are excited about the plans for expanding our programming and exhibits at our current location now that the pre-pandemic idea of relocating downtown is no longer our focus. Visitors who have been coming to MOSI since we reopened after the COVID shutdown have been engaging with our staff and exhibits in fascinating ways, and people who haven’t been here since the days of our more cavernous experience need to come relearn what MOSI does best – edutaining families and exposing budding scientists of all ages to new and innovative experiences that are always changing. We’re constantly hearing how great the exhibits are now that everything works and functions as it’s supposed to, and by adding immersive experiences like Dinosaurs Around the World, there will be plenty of reasons for folks to keep coming back.
*Presented by MOSI | Originally published in June 2022