It's 8 o'clock on a Thursday night, and Liberty Science Center is up past its bedtime.
Since 1993, the Liberty Science Center, or LSC, has long-held a reputation as a great place for school field trips and family-friendly fun. In August 2016, the LSC created an event curated toward the population in between the students and parents that frequent the center—the 21+ crowd, who still harbor an interest in science and learning, but who don't want to fight crowds of eager children.
“We launched LSC After Dark as a way of furthering our mission to excite learners of all ages about the power, promise and pure fun of science and technology,” said LSC President and CEO Paul Hoffman.
“We wanted to create the best party in Jersey City — infused with a lot of science,” Hoffman said. “Most of the world’s greatest museums have periodic evening hours for a couple hundred adults, and we thought why not us?”
What Hoffman didn’t realize was that instead of attracting a couple hundred, LSC would attract a couple thousand.
Every third Thursday, the Science Center opens its doors from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. for about 2,000 attendees. Tickets start at $20, so the door price alone brings in about $480,000 yearly — and that’s before the day-of $5 upcharge, bites and libations.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, any revenue the Science Center brings in is used to further its mission, rather than benefit shareholders. Of the 650,000 guests that walk through its doors every year, 91,000 are students from underserved communities, according to Hoffman.
“Programs like LSC After Dark help offset the costs for these students that would otherwise be unable to pay,” he said.
A large portion of the 2,000 or so monthly attendees are Jersey residents, but some 500 of them trek over the Hudson from the five boroughs. They are met with vendors such as food-slinging Midnight Market NJ, booze-pouring Jersey Wine & Spirits, and art purveyors JC Oddities, along with open-format DJs that play music for a wide audience.
The last time Staten Island native Sarah Minall, 27, went to the Science Center was to see “Tornado Alley 3D” at the Center’s IMAX theatre in 2013. Before that, she said, she hadn’t been there for a good 10 years.
“At interactive museums like LSC, as an adult I always feel the need to hang back a little bit so the kids can get the best view or be toward the front of the crowd, but I really want to be running around and getting up close just as much as they do,” Minall said. “This event was great because it allowed us to explore the whole Center without worrying about stepping on any toes. That, mixed with the adult interests — alcohol, food, dancing — made for a great combination of different kinds of fun.”
“There aren’t many places where you can climb a massive jungle gym suspended 35 feet over a dance floor,” she added.
She was referring to the Infinity Climber, billed by the Science Center as the “world’s first suspended climbing play space of its kind.” Surrounded by 19 miles of hand-threaded wire mesh to prevent falls, the structure has multiple climbing routes and can hold up to 50 climbers at once, exploring together and listening to the DJ situated below.
“Music is a really important part of the evening,” said Hoffman. “It helps to set the tone for a fun night and makes it feel very different from our day-to-day operations.”
The DJ for November’s event was Hoboken-based DJ UFOso. The overall theme was a “Game of Thrones”-inspired “Whiskey and Winter are Coming,” expertly executed with liquid nitrogen-laden whiskey drinks, a flaming musical performance using a Rubens’ Tube (an old school physics apparatus that demonstrates standing acoustic waves with fire), and photo opportunities with an Iron Throne built in the MakerLab, part of the LSC’s 19,000-square-foot Center for Learning and Teaching dedicated to delivering educational programming.
“We like to tie into pop culture and the things people are already talking about, then we build in related science lessons,” said Hoffman. “Our education teams focused on fire and ice experiments to connect with ‘Game of Thrones.’”
The next LSC After Dark event lands on Dec. 21 with the holiday theme “Science, Sweets & Ugly Sweaters.” Before that, though, is something out of this world: On Dec. 9, LSC will open the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, which the LSC says is the largest and most technologically advanced planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. With the opening of the planetarium, Hoffman said he expects to eventually increase the frequency of LSC’s evening programming, and to substantially grow the attendance and revenue of these events.
“By opening our doors at night for LSC After Dark, we’re able to focus our efforts and create unique, interesting experiences just for adults. It’s a great way for the Science Center to be a resource and build community,” he said.