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Gift Pushes GWIZ 2.0 Closer to Realization


SARASOTA -- GWIZ, the Science Museum, has been a staple educational attraction on the Florida Gulf Coast for more than two decades, relocating and continually expanding to provide area residents with up close experiences in the world of science and technology. But in a rapidly changing world, keeping up with innovations is evermore challenging.

Last year, GWIZ made the major decision to temporarily shutter the facility in order to completely rebuild their concept from the ground up. GWIZ 2.0, a revolutionary conceptualization of GWIZ's mission, while more closely reflecting the world around us, recently received a major boost in support from a local foundation, and the organization is more excited than ever as their vision moves closer to reality. 

The original Gulfcoast Wonder & Imagination Zone began as The Gulf Coast World of Science, which first opened to the public in October of 1991 with a modest 1,000 square feet and just 10 hands-on exhibits. GCWS was soon granted membership in the Association of Science & Technology Centers and expanded to 6,000 feet. Then in May of 1993, the Sarasota City Commission voted to provide GCWS with a new permanent home, the former Selby Library building, eventually providing a 20-year lease for the building.  



With a name change to the Gulfcoast Wonder & Imagination Zone, “GWIZ” moved into the newly-renovated site and proudly opened its doors to the public in August of 2000. The $3.5 million 33,000 sq. ft. facility located on the bay front in downtown Sarasota provided the perfect chance to transform the operation into a world-class, interactive science museum, and for more than a decade, GWIZ helped foster a love of science and technology with area and visiting guests.  


The current rebirth, put into action by the new Board of Trustees and new CEO Sara Rankin Wilson, will completely transform GWIZ. Rankin Wilson and 2012 Board Chair, Kelley Lear, say they’ve received consistent feedback from the community, and that GWIZ is listening. “In order to truly align with our mission, we must completely repurpose GWIZ,” Rankin Wilson said. “We’re throwing everything out but the Faulhaber Fab Lab and the animals!”

GWIZ's renovation will position it on the cutting edge of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education. GWIZ galleries will be filled with new, modernized exhibits that GWIZ now refers to as Educational AIDEs (Adventure, Imagine, Discover, Explore). “Each AIDE, will encourage hands-on, embodied learning for all ages,” says GWIZ’s Director of Education, Jennifer Holt. “A father and his 5-year-old will be able to play with the same AIDE, at the same time, and they will both learn from it on an age-appropriate level.”

To fund the massive improvements, GWIZ reached out to both new and existing partners, while putting out a call to the local community to support the critical education resource. 

“Our community gem needs support from the whole community,” says Rankin Wilson. “We have launched a fundraising campaign that offers naming opportunities for the gallery zones and each individual AIDE; when GWIZ 2.0 opens, every AIDE will proudly bear the name of a community philanthropist.” 


L to R; Diane Barth, board member for the Floyd C. Johnson and Flo Singer Johnson Foundation; Kelley Lear, board chair for GWIZ; Sara Rankin Wilson, CEO for GWIZ; Lisa Russo, board president for the Floyd C. Johnson and Flo Singer Johnson Foundation.

Recently, GWIZ received a major donation from the Floyd C. Johnson and Flo Singer Johnson Foundation that will go a long way toward realizing GWIZ 2.0. The board of the local foundation voted to gift $150,000 to the interactive museum.

“Flo really had an interest in GWIZ and she visited the center several times," said the board's Diane Barth. "Flo was hoping to find a good project within the center for a donation and this opportunity to help in the reopening of GWIZ is a great place to start. It’s our job as the board of the Johnson Foundation to honor that.” 

Johnson Foundation board president Lisa Russo said, "This gift is in keeping with the foundation’s goal to make the world a better place starting with education enrichment in our own community.”

GWIZ says the funds are earmarked to cover costs of long overdue building maintenance as well as sponsorship for some of the new Educational AIDEs.

“The Johnson Foundation’s generosity fulfills a huge piece of this puzzle for GWIZ,” Rankin Wilson says. “This is the type of support necessary to get our doors back open. This project is one of enormous magnitude and with continued support from donors we are focused on reopening in late 2013.”

Visit the GWIZ website to learn more about GWIZ 2.0 and how you can help support their renovations. 


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