Natural History Museum ribbon cutting, dedication

Inside the Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History received a $3 million gift from the Nathan and Fannye Shafran Foundation to support renovations and technological upgrades to its planetarium.

The Shafrans were instrumental in the founding of the Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium, which has allowed museum visitors to virtually explore the universe and enjoy immersive views of plants, constellations and other wonders of astronomy for 20 years, according to a Feb. 2 news release. Now, the Shafrans’ children and their spouses, Joe and Marla Shafran, Joan Shafran and Robert Haimes, and Paula Krulak, are providing for improvements with this gift to the museum’s Transforming the World of Discovery campaign.

“The Shafran family has always valued the importance of picturing ourselves not just in the story of life on Earth, but also in the larger story of the Universe,” Sonia Winner, the museum’s president and CEO, said in the release. “This generous gift will enable our planetarium and its programs to expand our visitors’ understanding of all the ways the forces of the universe affect our everyday lives.”

The gift will support technological upgrades to enable the planetarium to produce brighter, sharper images – resulting in a seamless, full-dome display rendered in the highest resolution possible.

“Nathan and Fannye were so proud of the extraordinary planetarium that they helped establish, and of the education and wonderment is has provided to countless people for two decades,” Joe Shafran said in the release. “My sisters and I are honored to help continue our parents’ legacy.”

With the museum’s transformation project underway, the enhanced capabilities of the planetarium will align with the integrative educational approach of the new Planetary and Biological Processes Wings, to be unveiled in 2024.

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The exterior of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and its Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium.

“When the planetarium was new, it was truly state-of-the-art,” Gavin Svenson, the museum’s chief science officer, said in the release. “Now it will once again be the gold standard for planetariums worldwide – a virtual spaceship with the ability to display any point in our galaxy with superb visual clarity and, just as important, to display current astronomical data with accuracy.”

The transformation project is pioneering a new model for how natural history museums explore the interconnectedness of humans, nature and the physical world, redesigning all its exhibits to help visitors see themselves in a broader context and making this gift particularly timely, the release said.

“The upgraded planetarium will allow the museum to help visitors grasp the connections between the science of astronomy and the biological processes here on Earth,” Joan Shafran said in the release.

The planetarium was updated in fall 2022, including a software upgrade to Digistar 7, a repainted interior and new seating. Now open to the public, it features a new live program, “Unfolding the Universe,” which highlights NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and is included in general admission.

“When our family discussed with Dr. Svenson the potential philanthropic impact of our gift on the planetarium, he explained how increasing its capabilities would help the museum amplify science literacy,” Krulak said in the release. “We feel that doing all we can to help people rely on science, both for answers and for understanding, is a crucial step in addressing many of the challenges facing our country and planet today.”

The museum is at 1 Wade Oval Drive in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood.

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