Ernest Coe Visitor Center



of an Exhibit

by Jennifer murphy Chapman

Published on March 17, 2011 , Modified on March 18, 2011

  • Description:

    I’m an exhibit developer and writer, and spend a lot of time fighting to keep excess text off exhibition panels. The first thing I size up when I walk into an exhibition, beyond the feel of the space, is the text. Are the panels succinct? Are they well-written? Thoughtfully laid out? If the designers paid attention to the amount and placement of text, they undoubtedly took other parts of the visitor experience seriously, too.

    The Ernest Coe Visitor Center does a good job of limiting text to keep visitors engaged and reading. I marveled at the consistent use of short paragraphs, sometimes just two sentences long. These catchy interpretive nuggets kept me moving through the space and reading along the way. It’s such an effective way to communicate with visitors (!), why don’t we see text like this more often?

    The Visitor Center opened in the mid-1990s, and though the interpretation is still accurate and interesting, the exhibition doesn’t look, well, modern. This is not to say that the Visitor Center looks worn – it doesn’t. It’s the design of the graphic panels, the panels that keep text so delightfully short, that hint at the exhibition’s age.

    If some of the graphics look every bit of their 15 years, the centerpiece exhibit is timeless. My eye immediately focused on the beautifully executed 270-degree artistic fabrication diorama of a cove with taxidermy mounts. Because the creatures that live in the Everglades move around with the seasons and often elude visitors, the land and underwater diorama helps visitors grasp the biodiversity of the Everglades. The reading rail and other areas surrounding the diorama pay homage to the showy creatures many visitors come the this National Park to see: alligators and water birds.

    Don’t miss the exhibit’s simulated bird blind. Tucked into an alcove, ambient audio plays a track of a naturalist narrating the birds guests see through one of three faux spotting scopes (really peep holes to view small video screens). It’s both clever and engaging. A species ID list, similar to the kind seen at many aquariums, helps visitors waiting for a turn with a scope.

    Although the facility could stand a few repairs and a graphic update, I imagine the Park Service has other, bigger, problems to fix first. The Ernest Coe Visitor Center is a solid introduction to the Florida Everglades and a pleasant surprise – both from the point-of-view of an exhibition developer and an Everglades tourist.

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