The newest exhibit at the Museum of Coastal Carolina really draws people in

A ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 24 in the Museum of Coastal Carolina’s Barrier Island Gallery kicked off the opening of a new virtual reality exhibit called Draw Alive!

An 87-inch x 48-inch screen virtual aquarium dominates the room, but volunteers Sharon Bowling and Rozanne Anderson contributed to the ambiance by painting fish and plant life on ocean blue walls surrounding the exhibit. Terry Bryant, executive director of the Ocean Isle Museum Foundation, Inc., demonstrates how Draw Alive! works by holding up a picture of a sea horse she had colored. She scans it, and the image comes alive in the aquarium.

“You wait for the ping then watch it swim into the tank,” Bryant says. A sunken pirate ship, treasure chest, variety of plant life and several sea creatures occupy the aquarium. Bubbles ascend to the top of the tank, giving more authenticity.

The process of getting the creature into the tank begins when participants choose one of six paper outlines of a sea creature — either a butterfly fish, anemonefish, sea horse, manta ray, puffer fish or sea turtle — then color the creature any way they wish with washable markers resting on child-size desks. “The more colors you use, the better it will appear in the aquarium,” Bryant says.

The artist has the option of adding his or her name under the picture, and when the creation is finished, a volunteer assists in scanning it onto the screen. “You add your name so you can follow your fish,” Bryant says. “That makes you watch it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a child or adult. It draws you in.”

Another plus to this exhibit is that the back of the scanned picture gives “Fun Facts,” so people can learn more about the sea creature they chose. For example, among the facts for the puffer fish is that it’s also known as blowfish or balloonfish and that it lacks the scales most fish have.

Calvin Taltavall, 15, a student at Brunswick County Early College High School and a museum junior volunteer, stands ready to help visitors scan pictures and provide other assistance at the exhibit. “I grew up as the kid who came to Ocean Isle on vacation, and the museum was one of my favorite places to go,” he says and explains that his family moved to Ocean Isle from Warren, Connecticut, five years ago.

People gather around the tank and point as their fish appears and swims around. A maximum of 10 scanned fish remain inside the tank at one time, and as more are scanned, the ones that were inside the longest, swim to the back of the tank and fade away.  

“My turtle’s still in the tank,” says Heather Evans, a marketing representative with Servpro and a Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce ambassador.

Bryant explains that Draw Alive! was featured at a conference she attended two years ago, and she realized the product not only fit into the museum’s mission, but also fostered her goal to have interactive exhibits. Of the six themes the company Breeze Creative offers, Bryant chose Marine Life. The board approved the approximately $14,000 purchase, the volunteer association donated $1,000 and others contributed to the project. Bryant says the demonstration of Draw Alive! at the annual Wine Fest in April was positive. “It was well received, and that was adults,” she says.

It’s possible to add more themes to the exhibit at a minimum price because the initial cost for installation is complete and the other needed component, the software, is less than $1,000. The Christmas theme and Dinosaurs theme are two Bryant prefers, although Planets, Farm Animals and Cars are other choices Breeze Creative offers.

Another interactive exhibit at the museum is the Augmented Reality Sandbox, which emphasizes earth science. “It’s a huge favorite with patrons,” Bryant says. People use their hands to mold the thousands of pieces of curly, cut paper into various landscapes to create islands and other terrain or use their fingers to simulate a rainstorm to see where water flows.       

“You have to be interactive,” says Jerry Rothenberg, chairman of the Museum Foundation board. “That’s the way children learn today. That’s the way of the future.”  

“This is the best place for visitors to spend their time,” says Maria Knapik of Sunset Beach, who was an educator at the museum for five years and is now an ambassador with the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s just so easy for people to come in and do the [Draw Alive!] exhibit,” Bryant says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a child or adult.”


Want to see Draw Alive! in action?
Museum of Coastal Carolina
21 E. Second Street, Ocean Isle Beach
(910) 579-1016  
Summer hours: Monday through Thursday 10 am-7 pm; Friday 10 am to 5 pm; Saturday 10 am to 1:30 pm    
Admission: Free to members, active military and disabled veterans; Non-members ages 13 to 61 pay $9.50; seniors age 62 and older pay $8.50; children ages 3 to 12 pay $7.50; ages 2 and younger get in free.