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January 26, 2012 12:10 am


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On the map: At the Science Museum of Virginia, visitors trace their ancestors' journeys.



A hallmark of exhibitions at the Science Museum of Virginia is interactive displays that convey information in a memorable, fun-filled way--often revealing new and surprising dimensions of objects and concepts that we may take for granted.

A prime example is the traveling exhibit "RACE: Are We So Different?" a project of American Anthropological Association that debuts at the museum this Saturday.

"I was surprised that I learned so much from this exhibit," said the museum's director Richard Conti. "I thought I was quite knowledgeable in this subject area, but exploring it from these different perspectives--science, history and culture--brings new understanding. We tend to want to categorize people, but this exhibit shows that the best way to do this is not on the basis of how people look."

"RACE" includes a station where visitors can scan a square inch of their skin and try to identify that image among samples from dozens of other people. Another display presents a number of characteristics and reveals surprising facts about genetic traits that are shared by seemingly different people.

"You may think you are genetically like one person because he or she looks like you, but when you actually look at your genetic makeup, you may find that you are, in fact, quite different," Conti said.

Another science-based display shows the relationship among skin color, the way people process melanin, and the latitudes where different people live.

From the historical perspective, the exhibit explains how economic interests and power struggles have influenced prevalent notions of race and probes the generational impact of racial discrimination. In addition, a display presents ideas about race that are reflected in icons of popular culture, ranging from Barbie dolls to Hollywood images.

Along with the "RACE" traveling exhibit, the museum staff has created a number of companion displays and activities related to Virginia.

A 750-square-foot exhibition called "35 Blocks" presents the story of race within the section of the city that lies between the Science Museum of Virginia and the state Capitol.

Visitors can view a scale model of the museum building, which originally served as the Broad Street railroad station, with the architectural rendering indicating where the "colored waiting room" would be.

Featured is a news clip of a debate between the editor of the local newspaper and Martin Luther King Jr. regarding the justification for sit-ins. The exhibit includes the actual lunch counter from the Woolworth's store where Richmond's first sit-in was held in 1961.

To convey the concepts of the exhibit to younger children, the actors of the Carpenter Science Theater Company will present a puppet show with characters of different colors. There is also an on-site science demonstration, "It's in the Genes," that will introduce aspects of genetics, heredity and the influence of environmental factors on organisms.


Throughout the duration of the "RACE" exhibit, the museum will host a series of Family Cultural Saturday festivities featuring the dance, music and song, arts and crafts, and foods of various cultures.

This Saturday's event will include presentations by performing artist Teja Arboleda, who blends humor with a message of the unity of humankind; Chickahominy tribe Chief Stephen R. Adkins; and the Chickahominy Dancers. The following Saturday, Feb. 4, will feature performances by a variety of musicians, drummers and singers.

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

What: "RACE: Are We So Different?" exhibit

Where: Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W. Broad St., Richmond

When: Jan. 28 through April 29

Cost: $10 for ages 4-12 and over 60; $11 ages 13-59. The RACE exhibit and Family Cultural Saturday presentations and performances are included with the price of admission. Special group rates and facilitated discussions are available for school classes and home-school groups. Info: 804/864-1400;

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