South Florida Morphs Into Bishop Museum

Todays News


Brynne Anne Besio still recalls focus groups in 2007 that she attended after being hired as CEO for the South Florida Museum. The idea was to test awareness among museum-goers from the region from Sarasota to Tampa Bay. Despite being open for decades, many in these carefully curated groups had no idea where the museum operated.

“They couldn’t even name us,” she says. “We were invisible.”

And so the museum has now discarded the name entirely. As of Wednesday, the institution founded in 1946 now goes by The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature. That takes the name of philanthropists Edward and Lillian Bishop, whose family name has adorned the museum’s planetarium since 1993 (that facility now becomes the Planetarium at the Bishop Museum).

It gives up any geographic brand. But South Florida no longer worked anyhow. In those same focus groups, anyone asked about the South Florida Museum presumed it was located in Miami. Museum officials note in the 1940s, Bradenton was about as far south as Florida civilization stretched, but that was before Interstate-75, central air and any number of other factors impacted Florida’s growth pattern.

Perhaps most important, the new branding puts “science” and “nature” on the letterhead. No-one wonders now if the museum holds art or artifacts. “This is solidifying natural history as part of our programming,” Besio says. 

The rebranding has been in the works since even before those focus groups, with a new name part of visioning plans before Besio’s hire. When the museum in 2011 announced plans for the Mosaic Backyard Universe, a shift became imminent, and the final stage of evolution started in earnest in 2016. The Bishop branding was settled on in January 2017.

That’s several months before the museum faced the greatest threat to its identity in recent memory, namely the death of Snooty. The oldest known manatee in the world, the sea cow over its 69 years had become a community mascot for all of Bradenton and the museum’s most potent fundraiser. His accidental death happened after a major annual birthday festivity in his honor.

But Besio made clear, the rebranding was already in the works. “All of this has been in motion for many years,” she says.

With a new name, museum officials hope to widen the reach of the institution, where today 70 percent of visitors come from Florida, and about half of those hail from the Manatee-Sarasota region. “This builds a full storyline for the museum,” Besio says.

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