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2018 - A Blockbuster Year!

Dear COSI Team,

What a way to close out 2018!  It was an auspicious weekend, to be sure, and I continue to marvel and be grateful for our unparalleled Team.  On Saturday, December 29, catalyzed by The Columbus Foundation’s Big Explore Day, we hosted an earth-shattering 20,740 guests in our building between the hours of 9:30 am – 7:00 pm.  This staggering and unprecedented performance was not just evidenced by the ridiculously large number of individuals that we greeted and supported throughout our busiest day in the history of COSI (closest second was a now paltry 12,000…) but it was the context and spirit of Saturday’s attendance that guarantee its place etched on the annals of history.

You see, on that fateful Saturday, The Columbus Foundation was celebrating its 75th anniversary.  This foundation, created three-quarters of a century ago, in a very uncertain time in world history – fraught with tumult, war, fear, and a general unease in the citizenry – decided to philanthropically raise and manage money, create programs and over decades, distribute millions of dollars to support the greater Columbus community.  And, while The Columbus Foundation’s generosity knows no bounds, they had a specific and intentional lens on the underserved, disenfranchised and struggling community.  This was the context and backdrop for Saturday, December 29th’s Public Cultural Institution Takeover

The COSI Team

Imagine this – in a city named after one of the world’s most famous explorers, Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus), The Columbus Foundation graciously and intentionally named Saturday “The Big Explore”, with a specific mandate to make cultural institutions in the city of Columbus free and accessible to all.  COTA, one of the plotting partners, stepped up in a big way by offering free transportation to several cultural institutions, including COSI, minimizing any barriers to access. 

“The Big Explore”.  What a befitting title and noble gesture – to intentionally allow all those who traditionally could not afford the admission fee to our iconic institutions, to freely explore at no charge the very institutions we insist are important for inspirational growth and cultural development.  In fact, as we welcomed each and every one of the 20,740 guests, it was clear that this intent was fulfilled, and the population that we especially wanted to serve heard the call to explore and came in waves and numbers like never seen before.

This was true not only for COSI, but all the other participating cultural institutions!  Imagine: Columbus Museum of Art - 7,585 visitors nearly a record (bested only by a Picasso exhibition) but represented nearly half of their December attendance.  The Pizzuti Collection: 811 guests - their largest single attendance day by far.  Franklin Park Conservatory: 15,626 guests - their biggest day ever and contributed to their highest attendance year on record. The National Veterans Memorial and Museum: 6,161 guests – their busiest day by far, the next closest was the day after Thanksgiving with 812 visitors.  The Ohio History Connection:  4,876 guests, yes, again, it was their busiest day on record.  And the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, topped 4 thousand, making The Big Explore one of their best days too! Add a ridiculous amount of scoops of ice cream (almost 10 thousand) from Jeni’s – and The Columbus Foundation has breathed new meaning into the proverbial “icing on the cake”!  

While The Columbus Foundation’s call to action around The Big Explore was indeed a great one, even more impressive however was our, COSI’s, ability to be such effective, efficient and wonderful hosts.  Over 20,000 people passed through our building and there were absolutely no issues of significance.  Imagine that – a steady flow of 20,000 people from 1 to 100 years old, diverse as the United Nations, seamlessly enjoyed our space from 9:30 am – 7:00 pm!  In fact, conversation after conversation and story after story our guests were overwhelmed with excitement and effusive with gratitude, not just because we were free, but also how we “processed” the record breaking crowds.  This was a clichéd Team effort, where all of you, all our departments, the entire COSI community came together and delivered a phenomenal experience.  Once again you were called to action, and like the consistency of Tom Brady, rose to the challenge and, frankly, crushed it.  I have no doubts that our sister and brother institutions owe a debt of gratitude to their respective staff members as well.

Indeed, The Big Explore was a colossal success, undoubtedly making our original explorer Cristóbal Columbus proud.  Clearly exploration is in our City’s DNA, and without question, the success of the Foundation’s intent, is in no small part, definitively due to all of you.  In one day, we provided an experience to numerous individuals and families who have either never been to our great Columbus institutions, or not attended in numerous years because of financial hardship.  No greater way to fulfill our Mission: To Engage, Inspire and Transform lives and communities.  And, no better proof positive for why the Arts and Culture Ticket Tax is critically important.  Well done Columbus!

Jan 31, 2019



Frederic Bertley, Ph.D. is the President & CEO of COSI.