Marcos at the Montshire

Executive Director Marcos Stafne shares his thoughts, talks, and experiences about the Museum. You can also follow Marcos on Twitter @MarcosStafne.

What are your Desert Island Discs?

If you were stranded on a desert island, what eight albums would you want to have with you? This is a question that has been asked by BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs since 1947. Every participant has a different group of albums that are relevant to them and speak to memories that surround their experience with particular music. Music and memory are incredibly connected—it’s an experience that many of us share, but is unique to each individual.

Erica MyersErica Myers, the Life Enrichment and Memory Care Director for Kendal at Hanover, thinks about music and memory a lot. Erica leads the Whittier unit at Kendal in Hanover, New Hampshire—a specific area devoted to residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The residents in Whittier participate in a program called Music & Memory which utilizes iPods filled with a person’s favorite music as a therapeutic tool to help them connect to their world. The program relies on the understanding that the music of our youth is deeply rooted in our brain. 

Erica has become a music sleuth for many of the residents. While some family members have a clear understanding of what music their relatives listened to, others have no clue—can you name your mom’s favorite songs from high school? If a family member can’t provide a playlist, she deduces the resident’s musical tastes by taking the person’s age and where they grew up into account. Each resident receives a customized playlist loaded on to a simple iPod. If you give a resident the wrong iPod, it can cause a great deal of agitation. While listening to your own music can be therapeutic, listening to music that is not "your" music can be a painful experience. 

ipod with headphones

This made me think about what would be on my iPod in the future. I've never been able to concisely answer the Desert Island Discs challenge. My musical awareness developed in the 1980’s and 90’s in Florida. Growing up with radio, the sounds of burgeoning hip hop and freestyle are ingrained in my head. I wish I could say that Bach and Mozart are my go-to music, but songs like All Cried Out, Ice Ice Baby, and Bust a Move are what instantly bring a smile to my face. When I think of the music of my childhood, Madonna and Prince come to mind as my music. If someone handed me an iPod with opera, unfortunately, it would cause me great discomfort (and believe me, I’ve tried to like opera).

Why are these songs (that I find mildly embarrassing) stuck in my brain? The interrelation of music and the brain was a constant question that came up while we were planning the Making Music exhibition at the Montshire. In our initial meetings, exhibit developers and specialists were curious about the connections between the two. Books like Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks have helped to proliferate interest in this subject, as have commercial enterprises like the Baby Einstein albums. 

The upcoming Making Music +Talks series beginning March 7, focuses on the connections between music and our brain, and each +Talk features experts in our community.

On March 7, Dr. Michael Casey will explore the interrelation of music, the brain, and society with the program Music and the Brain. Dr. George Christian Jernsted will discuss how different senses interpret music with a program entitled Experiencing Music with Our Whole Brain on March 14. On March 21, Eric Myers will introduce the film Alive Inside, a documentary about the Music & Memory program. And finally, Beau Sievers will discuss how music “moves” us with Expressing Emotion in Music and Movement on March 28. 

Each Making Music +Talk takes place on a Tuesday at 6:30pm in the Montshire’s Porter Community Room. The programs are free and open to the public, and also include a facilitated question and answer session. The +Talks are a great way to learn more about how our brains process music, how we use all of our senses to explore music, how music affects our brain to create memories for a lifetime, and why music creates an emotional response. 

I look forward to seeing you at the talks, and I promise not to play you any of my music too loudly—though I maintain that Young MC is one of the finest musicians of all time!


Marcos' signature

What’s Going On In This Picture?

An entire galaxy exists in a main stairwell of the Montshire. Greeting hundreds of visitors every day, Galaxy M82, or the “Cigar Galaxy,” is a large-scale print of an image taken in 2006 by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Montshire received the image from NASA to celebrate an anniversary of the telescope, and it’s been inspiring visitors for the past ten years. 

M82 Galaxy

I hear rumors that I’m called the “walker” at the Montshire. It’s true—I tend to “walk” the gallery floors and grounds countless times a day. It’s my duty to make sure we are providing Museum visitors engaging and awesome science activities and experiences in a safe environment. Also, I need walking time to think about things. As I travel up and down the floors of the Museum, I pass Galaxy M82 at least six times a day. Lately, it’s become a work that I spend a few moments with every day and practice a system developed by Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). This observational method is composed of three simple questions: 

What’s going on with this picture? 
What do you see that makes you say that? 
What more can we find? 

The questions are simple, but the more you press into them, the more you start to uncover. The world is a distracting place, and we often tune out most of what is in our visual field. We have an enormous amount of information coming at us at all times—so we force ourselves to have a narrow focus to perform daily activities. At the Montshire, we try to make concepts clear and easy to perceive in the galleries, but even our environment can be over-stimulating. It’s hard to notice Galaxy M82 when the honeybees are right around the corner! However, if you stop and notice, and ask yourself the three questions, you might be surprised by what you find. 

When I asked myself these questions with Galaxy M82, my answers surprised me:
What’s going on with this picture? I’m totally overwhelmed by the image. I don’t know where to look. What did I see that made me say that? Well, it’s a rather large image, much bigger than a photograph I can hold in my hand. It’s hard to focus my eyes on one particular aspect of the image, and there are bright white stars that seem to dominate areas of the print. What more can I find? When I scan my eyes to the corners of the picture, I can see other spiral-shaped blobs…those must be other galaxies—oh, the label mentions that there might be more galaxies in the image!

It’s a dynamic conversation to have with myself…all on the steps of the Montshire. You can utilize these questions to achieve a broader set of observations for many aspects of life. Last Saturday, we celebrated our annual Astronomy Day at the Museum. For the past few years, members of the Dartmouth Department of Physics and Astronomy have joined the Museum in sharing the joy of scientific discovery by leading activities throughout the day. The graduate students and post-docs that share their expertise also convey their passion for learning and searching for answers. As I took a step back to observe the audience interacting with the astronomers, I asked myself the three questions developed by VTS and noticed something really great: 

What’s going on with this picture? I see people of all ages getting excited about space and wanting to share that excitement with each other. What did I see that made me say that? Questions are coming from both adults and children, and the astronomers are valuing each question, layering in new information about the topic of space for a curious audience. What more can I find? It’s not just the same group of five or six families going to every activity throughout the day. There are nearly 800 people who have come to celebrate astronomy, and more…their love of science. 

Astronomer at MontshireI know that our community is curious and hungry for science experiences. We want to know how our world works, and further, what lies beyond or within. The tools of scientific discovery help us explore our natural curiosity and make sense of our daily experiences. 

To cap off my own post-Astronomy Day celebration, I went to see the movie Hidden Figures at the Nugget Theater in Hanover. The Nugget (which is over 100 years old) only has four screening rooms, and often you can show up a few minutes before a film and find plenty of seating. I was pleasantly surprised to find the lobby of the Nugget packed. The lobby was buzzing with people waiting to see the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three African-American women who worked at NASA during a pivotal time in the United States’ space program. I get excited when anyone wants to see a movie about space, science, or science fiction, because movies often spark people to get more interested in science (talk to 13-year-old Marcos after he saw Jurassic Park). 

Hidden Figures weaves in personal narratives, the fight for civil rights, mathematics, and engineering into a compelling drama that reminds us that we have the capacity to do great things in our quest for scientific discovery—access to achievement shouldn’t be filtered through the color of our skin or our religion. 

As I saw the audience clap and cheer through various scenes in the movie, I asked: What’s going on in this picture? I see an audience engaged with the story of perseverance and grit in the face of adversity. What did I see that made me say that? The audience was buzzing with heightened anticipation. They’re cheering—especially when Katherine Johnson solves mathematical equations with grace under pressure. What more can I find? Well, I know that I live in a community that values questions and debates, and works hard to stand up for people’s rights. These values take a lot of time to develop, and are critical for future scientists working together to make our world a better place. 

Here’s another question that I’ve been asking myself lately: 

What do I hope to find? 

I hope that we can all be in this together for our future. Science and facts matter greatly to having an informed and curious citizenry. I hope that people can use these three questions: What’s going on in this picture? What did I see that made me say that? What more can I find?…to question, self-reflect, research, and question again. It’s the self-reflection part that can be the hardest to do, but it’s so necessary to moving us forward, together. 

Hubble Photo Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA). Acknowledgment: J. Gallagher (University of Wisconsin), M. Mountain (STScI) and P. Puxley (NSF).

Marcos' signature

Warm Welcome: Making the Montshire Accessible for Families

So many amazing things happened in 2016 at the Montshire. We developed The Tinkering Loft and Making Music exhibitions, installed Ripple Effect by artist Dan Snow, celebrated our 40th Anniversary, worked with 40 schools to spark tinkering programs, and developed a new strategic plan. This was a year in which we talked to a lot of people about what was happening on our 100 acres and beyond—and listened to people tell us how the Montshire is important to them. 

So many people have incredible connections to the Montshire, but two conversations I had this year have really stuck with me.

Marcos Stafne at Rollways exhibitDuring my research for our strategic plan, I interviewed many people including family members who participate in our Warm Welcome program. This program provides deeply reduced admission or membership fees to families with economic disadvantages. One mother from the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont explained that while she would always make sure her kids could visit the Museum once a year, her Warm Welcome membership enabled her family to visit at least once a month—making the Montshire central to the educational development of her kids.

My second memorable conversation was with a friend who is a single mom. When discussing the economic issues that are facing many single parents in the Upper Valley, she explained that when you have a membership at the Montshire, you know that you always have a place to go that is good for your family. 
These two statements mean so much to me as a person who has devoted his life to working in museums. Visiting our local science center as a kid is one of my favorite memories. Looking back, I know that these frequent trips established my passion for curiosity and discovery.  I also learned about dinosaurs, sound waves, space, snakes, bubbles, electricity, more about dinosaurs, weather, sound, and the human body—all by following my own interests in a free-choice, hands-on learning environment. Whatever I wanted to discover—there it was—and I endlessly talked about whatever I experienced with my family.

Having a place in our community where families can grow together is vitally important. Programs like Warm Welcome help to ensure that people of all socioeconomic levels can practice the critical thinking skills that scientific inquiry provides. Last year, more than 1,200 families utilized Warm Welcome memberships (25% of our total membership base) and we welcomed more than 21,000 visitors to the Museum through the program overall. 

The Warm Welcome program would not be possible without the generous support of our community. I want to personally thank everyone who has supported this and other programs at the Museum. Having the Montshire become a routine in people’s lives means that science is active and present in their minds. We hope that in 2017 we’ll see an increase in the utilization of this amazing program, and that the discoveries found at the Montshire will be shared at dining room tables and car rides home for years to come. 

Marcos' signature

Thinking Strategically

One of the major projects Montshire has been working on over the past year is a strategic plan to guide our next four years. This plan involved a tremendous amount of community-based research that involved many of our visitors, members, and supporters—so thank you to those who participated. Your feedback was incredibly helpful in our thinking about what comes next for the Montshire. In March 2016 the board met to discuss the research and formulated four goals that compose a framework for our strategic vision. The Montshire’s board of trustees met in September 2016 and approved the following strategic vision, goals, and plan. 

Girls at Sea of Clouds exhibit

Our vision is to engage people of all ages in experiencing the joy of science by maximizing opportunities for discovery for our primary and emerging audiences and elevating our outdoor experiences. To make this possible, we will need to strengthen our core base of operations and tell our story in new and exciting ways. 

As we Maximize Opportunities for Discovery, we’re looking to focus on our core audience of families with children ages 8 and younger and develop new opportunities for families with children ages 9-14. We want to provide fresh experiences including new programs and rotating exhibits while maintaining our PreK-8th grade school services and programming for teens and adults. 

Elevating Our Outdoor Experience requires us to map out a high-level master plan for our 100-acre landscape and build a network of community partners to collaborate on outdoor maintenance, management, and new educational programming.

Internally, we want to Strengthen Our Core by designing and implementing a rolling, multi-year business plan that strengthens internal operations.  We also want to develop and execute an improvement plan for amenities, infrastructure, staff capacity, funding, and facilities.

To Tell Our Story in a more clear and compelling way, we want to hone our brand identity and communications strategies, as well as deepen our community, regional, and national profile.

We want to ensure that we continue building on our current level of success, remain relevant and responsive to our community, and pave the way for the Montshire’s future. We’ve been here for 40 years, and through the next four years we will develop and galvanize our operations to best serve our community for the next 40.

Read the entire Montshire Museum of Science Strategic Plan 2016-2020

If you have questions, please feel free to email me at

Marcos' signature

PrehistoROCK! Singing Dinosaurs Spark Collaboration


When most people think about dinosaurs that sing and dance their minds gravitate to that lovable (but slightly annoying) purple T. rex that lulled kids to sleep with his “I love you…you love me…” 

In my mind, if a Tyrannosaurus rex was going to sing, he would definitely not sing a lullaby. In the late 90’s I was tasked with producing a musical about dinosaurs for the Orlando Science Center. I thought the “king” of dinos should at least have a number worthy of Elvis Presley—and so began my journey in working on PrehistoROCK! A Dinosaur Musical

Seventeen years later I was amazed to see my old paleontological pals brought back to life by Northern Stage’s Youth Ensemble Studio (YES) program. Though a collaboration between Northern Stage, Montshire Museum of Science, Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS), and Tuck’s Rock Dojo, residents of the Upper Valley were treated to seeing a rocking T.rex, a swinging stegosaurus, a reggae-loving pterodactyl, and a blues-singing triceratops. 

Theater and museums are a natural fit. Many museums across the country utilize live theater or demonstrations with theatrical techniques as an interpretive tool to spark the joy of learning to museum visitors—there’s even an International Museum Theatre Alliance. In 1999 I was part of an ensemble of theater specialists that worked at the Orlando Science Center to produce a series of plays that helped unpack the content found on the exhibit floor. 

PrehistoROCK! at VINS

PrehistoROCK was inspired by an experience I had working in a real paleontology lab in Arizona. Paleontology wasn’t as fun as I’d had hoped it would be, so when my team at the Orlando Science Center was tasked with writing a show about dinosaurs, we thought that the ultimate respite for a bored paleontologist would be to dream up dinosaurs! With the help of co-author Heather Leonardi, and composer Robert Houle, we brought the story of Bailey Bones, a bored paleontologist intern to life in PreshitoRock! The show was later produced at the Capital Children’s Museum and the New York Hall of Science. 

In early 2016, representatives from Northern Stage, VINS, and the Montshire met to discuss collaboration. The YES program’s production at the Montshire and VINS coincided with the Montshire hosting the Dinosaur Revolution exhibition, and VINS’ Birds are Dinosaurs exhibition. The Upper Valley was going to have amazing dino-moments. 

Using content-based theatre is a great way for middle school students to accomplish a number of educational goals. Led by Northern Stage’s Eric Love, participants in the YES program were able to stretch their science skills and learn about dinosaurs, experience different musical styles found in the production, gain skills in dance and puppetry, and get real performance experience in front of audiences in two museums. Partnering with students at the Tuck’s Rock Dojo, the YES participants also got to perform with a live band. 

For the Montshire and VINS, our audiences were treated to a fun, family-friendly science theatre piece that extended the learning goals of our exhibitions. We also were able to see the excitement of the middle school YES participants as they engaged with our exhibits during breaks and after the shows. 

We know that people of all ages can experience the joy of science or get inspired to care for the environment when they visit our facilities. Seeing the YES participants explore the Montshire’s Dinosaur Revolution maze and watching a VINS raptor program is a great indicator that kids ages 9-14 really enjoy experiencing hands-on science. 

Marcos' signature

Page 2 of 5 pages  < 1 2 3 4 >  Last ›