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Main Spotlight: Engaging with Science on Main Street

June 28, 2023 | Main Spotlight: Engaging with Science on Main Street | Ben Wiehe, Manager of Experimental Practice at MIT Museum, Manager of the Science Festival Alliance and Liz Shenk, Manager of Marketing and Outreach, Main Street America |
Main Street communities host science-engagement events and activities. From left to right: Sweetwater, Tenn., Hendersonville, N.C., Los Alamos, N.M.


Main Takeaways

  • Using science in your Main Street programming can create unique experiences that build curiosity, discovery, and wonder among visitors and residents.
  • Engaging with science is a way to bring communities together, especially when the concepts of science are emphasized as being both locally alive and universal in scope.
  • Science-related events won't (and shouldn't) look the same in every community -- they're most successful when communities design them around their unique geographical and cultural traits.

Science is not just a static pile of facts and knowledge, it's the human experience of curiosity, discovery, and wonder. It is a way of telling stories and creating interactive experiences that connect us to the natural world and to each other. Most importantly, science isn't just for students or highly credentialed people working within institutions of power, it's for everyone! When you take this broader view, it opens a world of possibilities for how science and Main Street might connect.  


Over the past few weeks, we have been exploring how different communities have incorporated science into their events and promotions in a series called "Science on Main Street." From digging into Hendersonville, North Carolina's Earth Day Festival to exploring Los Alamos, New Mexico’s ScienceFest to learning from how Sweetwater, Tennessee, attracted over 50,000 to witness a total solar eclipse, Main Streets across the country are discovering that when they add science into their programming, people get excited – and more than that, they become inspired. 


We hope these stories spark some ideas as you as you consider integrating science into your events and activities.


Sweetwater, Tennessee | Totality in the Valley 

On a late summer day in 2017, Sweetwater, Tennessee, a small city of 6,000 people, hosted an estimated 50,000 people from at least 36 countries and all 50 states – all for an event that lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds. Why? Sweetwater was in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse that passed across the U.S. in August 2017. 

To make the most of this rare celestial event, Sweetwater Main Street focused on putting together a strong marketing campaign to attract visitors, creating a visual identity through a special logo, hashtag, and mottos. In addition to reaching out outside of their home community, Sweetwater also focused on educating their residents to get them excited about the fascinating time. For example, they worked with their local library to align their summer reading program around a space theme and to create DIY viewfinders, and worked with a local art teacher to host a summer camp for children in which they painted an eclipse-themed mural that visitors later stood in line for hours to take a photo in front of! They also worked with schools, community organizations, colleges, and universities to create educational projects leading up to the big day. 

Hendersonville, North Carolina | The Desire for a Different Earth Day... Downtown 


Hendersonville, North Carolina, is located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a geography rich with waterfalls, greenways, farmlands, and beautiful hiking trails. To the residents of Hendersonville, the environment surrounding their community is a significant piece of their identity. So last year, a group of passionate community members worked together to create the first ever Earth Day Festival in an attempt to properly honor the environment around them that they so deeply love and respect. The environment is what their makes community whole. 
In the past, Earth Day in Hendersonville had been observed primarily with park trash pick-ups. During the first-ever Earth Day Festival, the Hendersonville Main Street district hosted over 2,500 visitors to join in interactive activities, meet with local scientists and environmental sustainability groups, witness live demonstrations, and more. 



Los Alamos, New Mexico | Using Scientific Significance to Instill Community Pride  


Los Alamos, New Mexico, holds a prominent place in the world of scientific history as the birthplace of the atomic bomb during World War II. Through this scientific heritage, the annual Los Alamos ScienceFest has emerged as a catalyst for the revitalization of the downtown commercial district. The annual ScienceFest is a celebration of science, innovation, and community that not only attracts visitors from far and wide, but also plays a significant role in preserving and reviving the historic charm of town. 
The festival has become a source of immense community pride and has spurred significant economic development since its founding. The festival includes guided tours of historic sites, presentations by and about renowned scientists, science-themed art exhibits, lectures and workshops, and much more. But the Los Alamos ScienceFest goes beyond being a celebration of science, it is also a platform for promoting preservation-based development. Recognizing the importance of preserving the town's historical architecture and character, the festival actively supports initiatives that focus on the history of the town. Simple measures like renaming their sponsorship tiers after famous local scientists, and significant partnerships like collaborating with the Historical Society, contribute to preserving the town’s unique identity.  



Looking for Additional Resources?

Learn more about how to create science-engagement programming on your Main Street:  
  • Do you already manage a science-related event? Join the Science Festival Alliance to network with other event organizers and receive tools, resources, and education.
  • Find examples of integrating science into existing celebrations through Science In Vivo.
  • Explore stories and examples about various ways to connect science and culture through Science Sandbox, a program of the Simons Foundation.
SnowShoe, a Main Street America Allied Member, is this quarter's Main Spotlight advertiser. For more information about what they do to support Main Street organizations, click here: