Portland Science Center launches with ‘Body Worlds’

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PORTLAND — Keeping a large number of corpses in a waterfront warehouse is rarely considered good form.

But in the case of the new Portland Science Center, it could bring thousands of people through the doors in a short period of time.

The corpses are part of “Body Worlds,” a traveling exhibit that puts real human bodies on display for education and entertainment. The center is a 15,000-square-foot Old Port building, dedicated to bringing in shows that otherwise might never have made it to Maine.

“Body Worlds,” which opens Friday, Sept. 4, is the center’s first exhibit. Joe Gold, who conceived of the center last winter, said it all came together quickly.

“In a short period of time we created a world-class space for a world-class exhibit,” Gold, whose Massachusetts-based entertainment marketing and promotion company, The Gold Group created the venue, said during a tour Wednesday.

The exhibit occupies the second and third floors of the building at 68 Commercial St., and will remain for a few months. It is one of 10 such exhibits worldwide. Dr. Angelina Whalley, co-founder and creative and conceptual designer of the exhibit, said she and her husband, anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens, developed the public exhibit together.

The first “Body Worlds” exhibit appeared in Tokyo in 1995.

“Any person has the ability to see first-hand what they are made of,” Whalley said.

She said seeing a model or representation of the human body doesn’t do it justice, like seeing a Monet print instead of the actual painting.

Admission to the exhibit is $19.50 for adults and $15.50 for children under 13, with discounts for senior citizens and those in the military. Gold said the exhibit can hold 350 people an hour, and he expects more than 100,000 people to see it.

But how did Portland, which is much smaller than “Body Worlds'” usual cities like Boston and New York, land the exhibit? The Gold Group previously did marketing for “Body Worlds,” and Gold said they maintained a great relationship with Whalley and others.

“We’ve had a great relationship and they were happy to accommodate,” he said.

Whalley said it was “intriguing” to help create a new museum environment with The Gold Group.

“It’s a small market, but it brings a lot of visitors,” she said. “It’s a great place to be.”

Gold said there was some skepticism that the size of the space on Maine Wharf wouldn’t compare with other venues, but that quickly vanished. He said the Portland exhibit is twice as large as the “Body Worlds” exhibit he put on at Boston’s Faneuil Hall marketplace.

And to those concerned that this may be an exhibit too terrifying for kids, with its use of preserved, entirely real body parts and organs, Whalley and Gold said it is an excellent educational opportunity.

Gold said teachers have already reached out for field trip possibilities “without encouragement,” and on Sept. 7 the center will send invitations to schools. He said it’s usually parents who are more skeptical about bringing children to the exhibit, but the kids are usually excited to see it.

Whalley said the exhibit is not only suitable for kids, but beneficial, because it is a way for children to learn what they are made of.

“There’s nothing ghoulish (about ‘Body Worlds’),” Whalley said. “This exhibition is all about life, it’s all about you.”

As for what comes after “Body Worlds,” Gold said it’s up to the public; he will be polling people to see what exhibit they would be interested in seeing next. Besides “Body Worlds,” The Gold Group has been involved with such exhibits as “Sea Monster Revealed,” “Pompeii,” “The Dead Sea Scrolls” and “King Tut.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The Soccer Player is part of “Body Worlds” at the new Portland Science Center.

Joe Gold, whose Massachusetts-based entertainment marketing and promotion company operates the Portland Science Center, Wednesday said he expects very high public interest in the first exhibit, “Body Worlds,” which opens Friday, Sept. 4.

Dr. Angelina Whalley is the co-founder and creative and conceptual designer of “Body Worlds.”

The Portland Science Center at 86 Commercial St. on Maine Wharf opens its first exhibit, “Body Worlds,” on Friday, Sept. 4.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.