Guru has been the digital agency of record for the National History Museum of LA (NHM) and La Brea Tar Pits for the last 3 years. You may know us from the “How Do You Museum?” campaign we built in collaboration with the NHM team and our talented comrades at Imaginary Forces.
Our campaign strategy was to customize the museum experience by focusing on how each visitor interacts with the museum. We enrolled influencers like Will Ferrell, who dressed up as Dr. Will Ferrell (a fake paleontologist comedically answering museum-goers questions) and visionary artist Gary Baseman, who brought his iconic character Toby along to tap into the inspiration that fuels his imagination.
As we look to the future, we seek to tackle a new question: How do we re-imagine the La Brea Tar Pits?
The Tar Pits are an anomaly, tens of thousands of years old, in the center of Los Angeles. Long before L.A. became the city it is today, the Tar Pits looked like little lakes tucked away in a valley of grass and trees. They were expert deceivers, taking hostage any animal who dared to tread too carelessly. Today, paleontologists have pulled out dinosaurs, saber-toothed tigers, ground sloths, and dire wolves (4,000 to be exact) from the pits. The Tar Pits serve as the perfect time capsules for capturing our world from 10,000 years ago.
Open to the public, anyone who visits the Tar Pits will be greeted by a sculpture of a family of wooly mammoths. One parent is stuck in a tar pit while the rest of the family helplessly stands on the shore. Inside, a museum displays different animals from the Tar Pits, including a dire wolf skull wall. There’s also an area called, “The Fish Bowl,” where new fossils come out every day.
The amazing thing about the La Brea Tar Pits is that you can witness the entire paleontology process from start to finish, from finding fossils in the tar, to pulling them out, cleaning them, organizing them, understanding what they are, putting them back together, labeling them, and finally, putting them on display.
The Tar Pits offer an end-to-end experience; the only museum in the world where everything happens on the same grounds: From discovery to display.
Opened more than 50 years ago, the La Brea Tar Pits is now reimagining itself. The NHM team asked us how, with the incredible technology we have at our fingertips, we could re-imagine the Tar Pits experience.
To start this thought expedition, big thinkers and influencers, including Guru’s Founder, CEO and Chief Creative Office Gagan (Jared Levy) and legendary creative director Peter Frankfurt from Imaginary Forces, convened at the historic El Rey Theater, along with paleontologists and a cross sector of individuals from entertainment, government, nonprofits and marketing.
Together, we brainstormed on the opportunities. One idea was to focus on the tradition of rock concerts, education, and music for a more hip environment. Think DJ’s playing while visitors grab drinks at the Tar Pits. Another stream of thought was activism-based: considering the current climate issues we are facing, how we can see our future by looking back? We imagined the asphalt as carbon boiling up, creating an opportunity to educate visitors on what they can do to fight climate change.
This would reimagine the purpose of museums
Such a think-tank required all of us to ask important questions of ourselves and of the Tar Pits. Museums have long been used to lay out unbiased data and science. But if a museum starts talking about sustainability and climate action, how does that work? At this point, do we care about climate deniers? We know the science and we know that human intervention is what’s causing this serious issue. Could museums play more of an activist role and help illuminate and provide potential solutions? Can museums show the latest inventions and solutions starting to help with climate actions?
We have a big opportunity to go beyond
Another idea focused on the integration of technology. There are viewfinders in every major city to enable visitors to look at the skyline of high rises, so could we create one leveraging augmented reality for the Tar Pits? Could we make a visitor see woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and what that landscape looked like back in time? Can we imagine the world of people and animals that lived here?
This beautiful day of re-imagination sought more ways to pull out emotion through storytelling. One human has been found in the tar: how do we tell their story? Or is the story told through the paleontologist’s perspective: The Rockstar of the Tar Pits (literally and figuratively). Similar to the notion of “celebrity chefs,” we can certainly demonstrate the badassery of the paleontologist’s processes, no? Or is the story told through the eyes of the woolly mammoth stuck in the tar? Who is the storyteller and who is the protagonist? There’s clearly more than one way to tell this story.
At the end of the day, we have more questions than answers—which is a fun place to be—but we are honored to be a part of this world-renowned institution.
It is such a unique place and it brings the Guru Crew immense joy to re-imagine the future (and the past) of the La Brea Tar Pits.