Wednesday, April 16, 2008

KC Exclusive: Interview With Aquarium Director Jon Dohlin Part 2

Last month, The Wildlife Conservation Society named Jon Forrest Dohlin as the new director of the New York Aquarium. Last week, Kinetic Carnival had the pleasure of meeting with Dohlin.

We are happy to continue sharing with you the highlights of the (lengthy) discussion. Yesterday, (Click
here to read Part 1) we had some views from Dohlin on subjects such as conservation and the aquarium's role in the neighborhood and community.

Today, we wrap up our aquarium feature with thoughts from Dohiln on things such as Marty Markowitz and the redevelopment of Coney Island.

On the redevelopment of Coney Island:

"For all these development plans, there will come a point when they really need community buy in. And I don't mean what they're doing now, just this generalized picture of what could happen, and everybody's waging this skirmish. I don't think either one of those proposals is necessarily reaching out to the community. They're both pretty much about 'let's bring in people form the outside.' "

"There are these beautiful, generic architectural renderings that immediately deracinate the whole experience. It could be Atlanta, it could be Maine, it could be anywhere.

"Of course we're in dialogue with the city about what we think this should be. How much impact does that have? I don't know? But we also need to wait and see how this shakes out and then respond to it. It's a dialogue, going back and forth."

On the decision to not revamp the aquarium's appearance:

"It is a disappointment, but it is what it is. Here's what's not going to happen - except in my dreams: we're not going to blow the place up, and start over. Even something as completely agreed upon - in terms of need and priority - as the perimeter, we can't just say, 'OK, so next year we're going to be closed for a year, and redo the whole perimeter in this fantastical thing,' because there's huge questions of where we're going to find the money. And in terms of where the priorities are: do people come here from the look of it from the outside, or for the experience on the inside. Obviously they come for both, I'm not trying to say the perimeter's not important. But whatever happens, it's going to have to be a gradual process. That's where we get to Shark [the exhibit]. First I want to focus on the guest experience, and have it be as good as possible.

"Part of the question with the perimeter too, do we do something with absolutely no contextualization with what's going on with the rest of boardwalk experience, or do we start to see what's going on, and inform by how that shapes."

"Over the last year and a half there's been a real focus and re-attention on the guest experience. In the small but really meaningful ways: are we clean, are we open, are we friendly, are we giving people a great value for the money, do the exhibits look as good as they can look, given the constraints of what they are. Just all the things you think about when you think about, 'am I going to have a good time at this place.' There's been a renewed focus on that, and I think it's really paid off."

On Marty Markowitz:

"I think Marty Markowitz is the best thing that could happen to the aquarium. And I'll you why- He wants this aquarium to be great.

"I think his idea of taking it out of the WCS was based on only partial information, perhaps, on what the relationship with the aquarium was. And also on a legitimate perception that over the course of 50 years the aquarium has been neglected."

On keeping admission prices low:

"If you compare our entrance fees to any other aquarium in the northeast, it's like a third of the cost. And that's cool, I think that's great, because I want to be available to as broad a spectrum of people as necessary. And that's a decision that's driven as much by the city as by WCS. I'm in complete agreement with the city about that.

"It doesn't do me any good to raise prices beyond what my neighbors can afford. That's just dumb. Also, from a conservation and education standpoint, the kids that I most desperately want to reach are the kids that are right around here. Those are the kids who don't have the chance to go to camp. I don't want to generalize or be patronizing, but studies have shown that for a lot of those kids, going to the zoo or aquarium is their connection to nature. Certainly, Coney Island Beach is their connection to nature. In my quest to save the world, I want to provide as many of those kids as possible with their connection to nature. I've got to keep my admission price where I can do that."

- post by Ben Nadler

No comments: