Supporting Vital Cultural Institutions

A series of transformative gifts from Griffin Catalyst over the past three years has helped to ensure the continued vitality and future growth of several of America’s most popular and inspiring museums and science centers.
Among the artifacts on display in the Exploring the Planets Gallery at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is an actual development model of the Voyager spacecraft, produced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and acquired by the Museum in 1977. Voyager’s two missions have provided a wealth of data about the planets of the solar system and continue to feed information back to NASA to this day.
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
Key Takeaways
  • In recent years, Griffin Catalyst has made transformative gifts to world-renowned cultural and science institutions in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, and Florida to expand access for families and children—and to ensure those institutions have the resources to thrive and innovate for decades to come.
  • A new planetary exploration gallery at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, a learning and exploration gateway at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, and re-imagined and expanded spaces at the Griffin Museum of Science and Industry are ensuring that young people continue to engage with science and technology in imaginative ways.
  • A spectacular new aquarium and environmental learning center at the Cox Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach, Florida—one of the fastest growing areas in the country—will introduce many hundreds of thousands of children and families to the diverse local environmental ecosystem and to the work of scientists protecting it for generations to come.

From the dawn of time, the stars above have evoked a universal sense of awe and wonder. Space has been the inspiration for art and philosophy, and a catalyst for many of the greatest advances in science and technology. Exploring the Planets will traverse one of humanity’s timeless interests and captivate the minds of millions of visitors for years to come.

Exploring the Planets  

Originally just one building on the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. has grown over time to become the largest complex of museums and research centers in the world. In a typical year, its 19 major museums welcome a total of more than 22 million visitors, from tourists, families, and school groups to distinguished scholars and researchers.   

At the Exploring the Planets Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum, visitors are introduced to the variety and complexity of the planets, moons, and other objects in the solar system and beyond. The exhibition incorporates the latest findings of spacecraft and roving vehicles launched by NASA and other nations—and includes replicas and test versions of many of those same vehicles. 

Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian’s job is to educate the world through its history, art, science, and culture. What does it mean to be an American? How can history help shape our future? How can science help us really be a better society?

Among the most popular of the Smithsonian’s facilities is the National Air and Space Museum. Since its opening in July 1976, it has regularly received more than six million visitors a year, making it one of the most visited museums in the country and the world.  

It’s a museum that really uses technology to understand what it means to be an American,” observes its director, Christopher Browne. “It helps us understand American ingenuity, American creativity, and how that creativity in air and space has shaped the world.”   

But the wear and tear of more than 350 million visitors over the years—including tens of millions of eager, excited young people—has taken a toll on the great structure, which is now nearing half a century of continuous operation. Although it was one of the most advanced museums of its time, new developments in exhibition technology—and new ways of learning and receiving information among its younger visitors—have demanded a fundamental rethinking in recent years of everything from the museum’s construction to the layout and content of its exhibitions.  

It’s an institution that needs to build on its almost 50-year history,” notes Browne. “It’s an attempt to take each gallery and think about how it better serves the audience in order to transform our spaces into something more immersive, more engaging, and more meaningful for generations to come.” 

The challenge is that America is a different place than it was 50 years ago. People expect different things, and this renovation allows us to transform the galleries in a way that will allow people to draw from the amazing research and science that have occurred since and be made better by it.

For the largest and one of the most ambitious of the eight new galleries leading that 21st century transformation, the National Air and Space Museum partnered with Griffin Catalyst to fund the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery, through a $10 million gift announced in May 2021.  

In the Exploring the Planets Gallery, large suspended hand-painted models of the eight planets of our solar system—all built to the same scale—provide visitors with a vivid sense of the vast differences in size between small planets like Mars and Venus and large giants such as Saturn and Jupiter. 

Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Drawing on the latest technology that allows for direct observation and exploration of the planets by spacecraft, rovers, and landers, the new gallery is filled with immersive visualizations of other worlds. That includes ancient volcanoes, immense canyons, methane-filled lakes, massive storms and, in the sky, complex ring systems. In place of the familiar planet-by-planet organization stretching from Mercury through Neptune, the exhibition is structured from the outside in, emphasizing the three distinct types of worlds—small icy bodies, giant planets, and rocky planets—that make up the solar system.  

Every time I walk into Exploring the Planets, there is a crowd inside ‘Walking on Other Worlds,’ often sitting down because they want to take in the whole presentation. One crowd of families was absolutely enthralled by the video, with kids ranging from pre-school age to teens. I kept hearing choruses of ‘oh wow!’


Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum since the opening of the new Exploring the Planets Gallery

It also includes displays of the extraordinary human artifacts that have allowed us to gain a better understanding of these distant places: a full-scale replica of the two Voyager spacecrafts—still making their way through distant space—a model of the Mariner 10 spacecraft, and three generations of Mars rovers, including a working cousin of the Opportunity rover that became the unlikely star of the 2022 hit documentary “Goodnight, Oppy.”   

“What this gallery does, thanks to Ken Griffin’s support,” Browne notes, “is give us a chance to experience, in many ways, what it would be like to live on another planet, to walk on a planet, to explore the solar system from a world other than Earth. In other words, it frees us from the bonds of Earth.” 

Already one of the most popular new exhibitions at the museum, Exploring the Planets “would not have been possible without the support of Ken Griffin, Lonnie Bunch observes. “The partnership has allowed us to reach thousands more students, more families, and many visitors to the National Air and Space Museum, and it’s allowed us to think about how we use technology.Its impact, he believes, extends far beyond the realm of astronomy.   

The Exploring the Planets Gallery features an exact full-scale model of the Mars Science Laboratory, known as Curiosity, which successfully landed on August 6, 2012, after nearly a year traveling from Earth. In 2022, both Curiosity and Opportunity became the unlikely cinematic “stars” of the popular feature-length documentary Good Night Oppy. 

Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Innovation is one of the great strengths of our nation. It is the creativity that you see in science, in business, and in many other areas. It allows us to help the public become engaged in being innovators on their own—all things that are at the heart of what Ken Griffin wants to do, which are also at the heart of the Smithsonian.

Making Science More Accessible

Even as the new Exploring the Planets Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum was opening to wide acclaim and soaring visitor counts, major gifts from Griffin Catalyst were propelling the transformation of museums and science centers across the country, including in two of America’s largest cities and one of its fastest-growing regions.    

Photo Credit: © American Museum of Natural History

Created with the support of Griffin Catalyst, the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at New York’s American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest new museum facilities devoted to the sciences that has been built in the United States in decades. Its 230,000-square feet of  total space includes a butterfly vivarium, a gallery devoted to insects, a new research library, and a state-of-the-art immersive theater. Designed by the noted architect Jeanne Gang, the center’s exterior recalls a monumental rock formation, built of the same pink Milford granite as the Museum’s Central Park West façade.

In New York, the American Museum of Natural History—one of the nation’s oldest and largest institutions devoted to the natural sciences—was dramatically expanding its landmark home with a new structure to expand opportunities for science learning and exploration: the $465 million Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, located on the museum’s Upper West Side campus, adjacent to Central Park. 

Designed by Studio Gang, the international architecture and urban design practice led by Jeanne Gang, the structure totals 230,000 square feet in size. The new Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium, a five-story-tall entrance to the museum from the busy thoroughfare of Columbus Ave, serves as a breathtaking gateway to the museum for students, families, and visitors from around the world.

230,000 sq. ft.

Of a newly imagined exhibition, learning, research, and collections space at the American Museum of Natural History will help visitors connect with more scientific and natural discoveries

At the center of the Richard Gilder Center is the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium, a dramatic five-story space that links the museum’s main building to Columbus Avenue via an inviting new entrance. Large skylights bring abundant natural light into a space crossed by pedestrian bridges, which serves as a gateway to the museum’s collections and educational spaces.

Photo Credit: © American Museum of Natural History

Described as a “stunning, cavernous…light-filled structure” by reporter Wendy Blake, the atrium was inspired by “natural forms–such as caves and even melting blocks of ice,” and offers visitors three floors of collection displays and immersive exhibitions, classroom suites and a new research library, and learning center with expansive park views. A key leadership gift of $40 million by Griffin Catalyst advanced the completion of the center, which the museum’s president emeritus, Ellen Futter, described as a “building for our time,” which “speaks to some of the greatest issues before us as a society, as a natural world.”

Photo Credit: © 2023 Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.

Support from Griffin Catalyst has allowed the Museum of Science and Industry to create a series of new exhibition spaces, including Pixel Studio, a state-of-the-art digital gallery and performance space whose 8K resolution immersive environment will provide the only museum experience of its kind in North America.  

Meanwhile, in Chicago, a transformative leadership gift of $125 million, announced in October 2019, ensures the future of another of the nation’s premier science and technology centers: the Museum of Science and Industry 

The gift—the largest in the museum’s 89-year history—will ensure generations of students continue to have access to high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content, key areas of study that are essential to solving the hardest problems of the future. It also supports the construction of a major new destination within the museum’s sprawling South Side campus: a state-of-the-art digital gallery and performance space that provides an immersive full-room experience that can be enjoyed without goggles.

The Museum of Science and Industry celebrates our greatest scientific and commercial achievements and ignites the imaginations of all who visit.

Built originally for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and reopened in 1933 as the Museum of Science and Industry, the massive cultural institution along the city’s waterfront houses more than 2,000 exhibits in 75 major halls, exposing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the wonders of science and technology.  Support from Griffin Catalyst has secured the future of the museum as one of the leading science and educational attractions in the United States. 

Complementing this support for some of America’s most venerable cultural institutions is another major gift, transforming a newer destination in a growing part of the country: West Palm Beach, Florida. Here, an $8 million gift from Griffin Catalyst is funding the large-scale expansion of the Cox Science Center & Aquarium. The funds will support the construction of a 130,000-gallon aquarium, which will bring visitors on an aquatic journey through the Sunshine State, from the Everglades, through Florida’s inland rivers and into its Gulf Stream waters, offering STEM education and interactive experiences 


New aquarium at the Cox Science Center & Aquarium will take visitors through Florida’s vast aquatic ecosystem

When students engage with the natural world,observes Griffin, “they develop an excitement about science that will drive progress for decades to come. I hope the expanded aquarium will increase appreciation for our region’s dynamic ecosystem and the work required to preserve it and protect it.” 

Ken Griffin’s momentous commitment to prepare the next generation with STEM education―mastering data science, cloud computing, engineering, and more―will make America competitive in a global market.

Photo Credit: Cox Science Center and Aquarium

Support from Griffin Catalyst is allowing the Cox Science Center & Aquarium, located in West Palm Beach, Florida, to construct a 200,000-gallon aquarium and associated exhibition center, which will provide interactive educational experiences about the state’s aquatic environment to half a million student visitors annually.