The Wildflower Center is known for its inspiring native gardens and beautiful sandstone and limestone architecture that showcases Texas' historic past. Now a contemporary new exhibit trumpets that beauty while introducing visitors to the center and describing why the center's mission matters.
The eye-catching exhibit in the Visitors Gallery took 18 months to develop. Its eight free-standing, interactive units help orient people to the Center's offerings and inspire action to preserve native plants. The units, many of which include buttons to push or pieces to move, also make the case for native plants' importance and their role in ensuring a sustainable future.
"People love the contemporary design and the interactivity," said Damon Waitt, the center's senior botanist. "One docent told me a family spent a couple of hours in the Visitors Gallery exploring all the different aspects of the exhibit."
Waitt oversaw the design and construction of the units by Xibitz, Inc. out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, at a cost of $325,000. Center staff, docents, volunteers and visitors participated in focus sessions to develop the key messages in the exhibit. A core group of center staff guided aspects such as developing and reviewing content for the exhibit. They included Johanna Arendt, a temporary center staff member who was instrumental in coordinating the exhibit's development for many months. "The input from these key stakeholders and the expertise of Xibitz helped guide us through some pretty unfamiliar waters in terms of creating a major exhibit," Waitt said.
The new exhibit replaces one that had been in place since the Wildflower Center opened at its current location in 1995. The new units feature eye-catching geometric shapes and include interactive elements such as wooden pieces that are stacked to help guests see how the layers of an ecosystem build upon on each other. On other units, visitors can listen to audio recordings, push buttons or move parts to see how their actions impact the environment.
Several units display samples of seeds and flowers previewing what visitors see on site as the seasons change. Quotes by Lady Bird Johnson are scattered like seeds throughout the exhibit. "The design of the exhibits allows us to do multiple layers of interpretation that adds impact and helps us communicate our messages," Waitt noted.
A Resource Center is located at the east end of the gallery and offers visitors a chance to sit and enjoy high-resolution wildflower slide shows by photographer Bruce Leander. Computer stations nearby give visitors access to more detailed resources about native plants that they can explore at their own pace.
The new Visitors Gallery exhibit was made possible by the family of Claire Kolodzey, a docent for many years, and by contributions from Heart Sing Foundation, the Lola Wright Foundation and from volunteers.