John Pether is a man on a mission — a multimillion dollar dream to establish in Sarasota a state-of-the-art Florida history museum. A gargantuan undertaking to be sure, but Pether brings to the task the zeal, coupled with a well-thought-out and researched plan with facts and figures to convince even the skeptical that it can happen — indeed should happen.
What Pether has in mind is an augmented reality home in which to showcase Florida’s unique history. He calls his project FLORIDA HISTORY EXPO: “A Time Machine of History Then and Now.”
The plan calls for incorporating virtual and augmented reality. He says it will be the first museum in the United States to offer such modern technologies. Holograms will bring to life historic figures, places and events. No more passing by a one-dimensional photo or artifact and a brief explanation. He cites an example of a saber tooth tiger skeleton exhibit enhanced with augmented reality, making it appear alive and roaming the premises.
Historic artifacts will also be brought to life by this technology. For instance a “Then” exhibit of a Civil War operating tent and all the antique instruments will be transposed into a “Now” high-tech operating theater.
The possibilities are endless: camp with the Native Americans, take a tour with John Ringling through the John and Mable Museum of Art, maybe visit a Roaring ’20s boom-time real estate office, go for a ride on an early train, or watch William Jennings Bryan stump for Coral Gables.
Perhaps you could join the Tamiami Trail Blazers as they traverse the daunting Florida Everglades, building the Tampa to Miami highway or watch the first Ringing Bridge being constructed.
Initially, Pether began lobbying for a larger building to house Sarasota County history, as the current site is much too small to showcase the numerous artifacts it has on hand. Then it occurred to him that to be economically viable the museum would have to showcase all of Florida’s history.
“I began to research other museums in Florida that had extensive exhibits on Florida history and soon discovered that the only real, broad-based Florida History museum is in Tallahassee, and that is not an easy destination for most Floridians or tourists. I also discovered that it was quite old and used the traditional method of exhibiting displays in a static and relatively uninteresting mode.”
He believes Sarasota is the perfect home for such a project given the number of tourists, the institutions of higher learning, particularly the Ringling College of Art and Design, which offers a virtual reality and an augmented reality program in its curriculum. Add to the mix the number of school children in the vicinity — 43,000 in Sarasota County with 183,000 additional students in adjoining counties.
According to Pether, school children make up a large portion of visitors to history museums.
Museums are a major tourist draw. As the American Alliance for Museums points out, “There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined (483 million in 2011) … a number that continues to grow.”
Money Magazine’s annual survey of “Best Places to Live” incorporates the concentration of accredited museums.
Such a museum would be a boost to Sarasota’s economy. Pether would place it in a modernistic building in Sarasota County near the Interstate 75 corridor, which would also draw from I-4. He thinks an area near the Celery Fields would be ideal.
His action plan for funding is based on the Tampa History Center’s success, which for them was a three-way partnership between Hillsborough County, the city of Tampa, and a nonprofit. Hillsborough contributed $17 million toward the building construction, Tampa donated 2.5 acres of land, and the nonprofit operates the facility.
Pether has held what he feels are optimistic meetings with the city and county commissioners. Money, of course, is the key issue. He prepared a list of state and federal organizations that provide grants to museum projects, and plans to form a steering committee to work with the city and county to continue to explore the idea.
There is also the spinoff potential. Pether notes that opportunity exists for Sarasota County to attract companies specializing in augmented reality.
With his facts, figures and missionary zeal, the dream may become a reality — one man making a difference.
His new website, www.floridahistoryexpo.com offers more information on the project as well as the examples of augmented reality.