Photography by Austen Amacker
Joe Cox has been fascinated with museums for as long as he can remember. Growing up in London, Cox made it a point to visit every nearby natural history museum. Years later, in 2012, when he landed the role of running America’s second oldest natural history museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, Eco Tarium, Cox believed he had reached the pinnacle of his professional life.
“I’ve been in the museum field for my entire career,” he says. “I’m incredibly fortunate to have practically fallen into a career that I love so much.”
Then, Cox was asked to become president and CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science in 2018. In doing so, he relocated to South Florida and pledged to revolutionize one of the area’s most prestigious science education centers.
In January, Cox welcomed a new exhibit, “Expedition: Dinosaur,” which is rooted in one of his lifelong passions. He also hosted the museum’s first Pride Day—where attendees were invited to learn about the science of rainbows and participate in storytime with drag queens—and has expanded the museum’s footprint in Fort Lauderdale by leading an initiative for MODS to join the “Museums for All” program.
“Our mission is to connect people to aspiring science,” Cox explains. “We live in a world where so many exciting and fascinating scientific discoveries and advances are happening every day. Here at the museum, we feel it’s important to make those connections to that science. Whether that’s through the dinosaur exhibit, which encourages children and adults to examine evidence and research, or through Pride Day, which furthers the museum’s accessibility to all visitors.”
Looking ahead, Cox is not only focused on MODS’ current landscape but also what the next five to 10 years may hold for the institution. As museums grapple with engaging children, reaching new visitors, and striking a balance between technology and hands-on activities, Cox is facing these challenges head-on with a slate of innovative experiences and plans.
“As an institution, equal access and inclusivity are among the most important factors,” he says. “We want to be open to as many people as possible, and that takes on a whole range of methodologies, including working [within] the community, expanding programming, and leveraging technology. When you look at our exhibits—current and future—we want to create a space with a high level of hands-on interactive experiences paired with technology that kids and adults may otherwise never get to experience.”
As Cox’s “Expedition: Dinosaur,” which runs through May, takes on a life of its own, he admits it’s one of the most exciting exhibits he’s had a hand in creating—and in the span of his career. Cox has had his fair share of major successes, including the fundraising, design, and construction of the science-focused, $25 million, 30,000-square-foot Golisano Children’s Museum in Naples during his eight-year tenure as executive director from 2004-2012.
“With the dinosaur exhibit at MODS, it has allowed me to reinstate my passions for science and exploration on so many levels,” he says. “I’m not the only one. Everyone loves dinosaurs, and this exhibit will surely inspire a new generation. Nothing beats a 2-year-old walking through the museum and looking at a life-size dinosaur for the first time. That’s what makes this all worth it.”