Power Up

Science museum (finally) sparks imaginations

By Gary Delsohn
February 2022

Just when scientific literacy seems more needed than ever, there’s good news in a tidy space along the riverfront near Old Sacramento.

Adults will love the recently opened SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity, MOSAC for short, at 400 Jibboom St. But this place is really about kids and teaching them that science matters—it’s formidable and we ignore or scorn it at our peril.

Here’s the most important fact if you are a kid: The museum aims to show youngsters that science is cool because, well, it is.

Museum organizers are not shy to admit the ultimate goal is inspiring more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, arts or math, and “creating a more science-literate community.”

The $83 million project is the result of a challenging public-private partnership with the Powerhouse Science Center, city and state, Sacramento County Office of Education and SMUD.

Designed by the local firm of Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture and built by Otto Construction, there were many reasons the museum almost didn’t happen.

The Great Recession, COVID-19, fundraising difficulties, construction complexities, historic preservation restrictions and a bunch of other obstacles slowed progress. Together, they ate up 15 years and left the public wondering if anything good would ever happen on the site after multiple false starts and decay.

The place could easily be named the Sacramento Museum of Perseverance and Refusing to Quit. It was worth the wait and trouble.

MOSAC is like our city, a proud mix of old and new. Old is the long-vacant Pacific Gas & Electric power station, opened in 1912, when America was just getting acquainted with electricity.

The epic fight among Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla over dominance in the field of electric power was something people still talked about.

Decommissioned in 1954, the historic Classic Revival and Beaux-Arts gem had deteriorated and was closed off by the city to keep out homeless people and other intruders.

Now it’s once again elegant and beautiful, deserving of its status on the National Register of Historic Places. The concrete beauty has been renovated and filled with hands-on exhibits kids can manipulate to learn about sustainable energy, impacts of carbon, where and how we get our water, intricacies of the natural environment and much more information all of us should possess.

Sorry science deniers, but going through the airy, light-filled old powerhouse is no neutral experience lacking a strong point of view. Visitors are implored on the wall leading to a powerful interactive SMUD-sponsored exhibit on how we can mitigate some impacts of climate change:

“Our planet is at a critical point. Our energy systems are in transition. Here and around the world cities are being re-imagined. Are you ready to join the challenge?”

I bet many of the 60,000 schoolchildren projected to visit MOSAC its first year will answer yes. There’s a decent chance many will become science lovers from what they see, feel and hear at the museum.

The new building is just as inspiring as the old powerhouse. It’s an iconic, dome-topped, 22,000-square-foot addition that includes a technologically sophisticated UC Davis Multiverse Theater with astronomy and planetarium presentations.
City officials hope MOSAC will inspire more waterfront development as they begin to market a stretch of the river that now includes several other cultural attractions, including the Crocker Art Museum and partially developed Robert T. Matsui Waterfront Park.

MOSAC may be modest compared to what exists in larger cities, but the new museum is sure to become a point of pride as Sacramento emerges from the pandemic and gets back to the business of building its own unique identity.

Gary Delsohn can be reached at gdelsohn@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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