Home / Local Stories  / Learn: Education & Enrichment  / New ‘River Alive!’ Exhibit to Open at Independence Seaport Museum

New ‘River Alive!’ Exhibit to Open at Independence Seaport Museum

High tech, and highly immersive, this exhibit brings the Delaware River watershed to life.

On November 23, Independence Seaport Museum will unveil its new permanent exhibit, “River Alive!” which educates visitors about all aspects of the Delaware River watershed in an immersive and high tech space. From little kids to adults, there is something accessible and engaging at every turn; and it all works to connect us to the life and importance of our region’s waterways.


The museum worked not just with scientists, but also artists to make this exhibit engage all the senses—something that becomes increasingly apparent when you notice the inclusion of art installations and a custom-made dress up selection that is way more intricate than you’d expect from a children’s corner.


Given its location at the center of the watershed, Penn’s Landing is the perfect spot for examining its complexity, and deepening our appreciation. Plus, it’s a great (and indoor) excursion to add to your day at RiverRink or any of the other Delaware River Waterfront attractions. Here are some highlights you can look forward to when you visit “River Alive!”

River Continuum Wall

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a dynamic 32-foot long screen that allows visitors to interact with and trigger digitally-animated content showing the diverse life in the watershed—from the mountains to the plains, and in between. Five input stations stand opposite the wall for visitors to manipulate, each with different commands like “roll” and “spin” to trigger reactions in the living things you see on the screen. The results are different each time—sometimes the otter winks, other times it’s cuddling its baby—so it’s a living, changing experience.


The five stations can also work together, letting visitors collaborate and become “water heroes.” This aspect shows the interconnectedness of the different parts of the watershed—and how one action at one part can affect the life and health of the whole.

Nature’s Highway Theater and Soundscape

This section will surely be a favorite among kids who visit the exhibit, as it encourages imaginative play and movement. There is a dress up corner (with incredible costumes and puppets designed by textile artist Lexy Ho-Tai), which invites visitors to become a “river character” and move through one of three river paths to tell their story.


The river paths are tall and rubbery, like outlandishly sized blades of grass; and the act of running the “characters” through them adds an element of kinesthetic learning to the “River Alive!” experience. A storytelling “narration station” triggers different light and sound patterns to mimic what is happening in the story.

Watershed 3D Modeling Table

If your kid’s water table got a PhD, it would be this table. As the “river” flows, work together to design waterways, interrupt and redirect the path of the water, and see how different surfaces (and human activity) affect water flow. The bins are filled with pieces you can add and move around to manipulate the river, and explore cause and effect.

Education at the Fisharium and Citizen Science Lab

The new exhibit includes a new Fisharium classroom, which will hold public programming and demonstrations, as well as activities for private groups like school trips and museum’s summer camp.


The Citizen Science Lab, while already a part of the museum (and a cornerstone of its weekend programming), will expand into “River Alive!” with activities allowing visitors to test water quality and “watershed wellness.” When the weather is nice, a rolling Water Sensor Experiment Cart can be pulled out of the lab and taken outside to bring science and exploration to people strolling Penn’s Landing, so they can learn about the river they are enjoying, even if they didn’t come to the museum that day!

Art Making

Two sections of the exhibit invite visitors to translate their experience into art. At the Plankton Bloom Table, you can cut out plankton shapes from vinyl, then position and layer them on the light table to create colorful “blooms” of plankton that appear to flow against the changing colors of light.


Outside of the Fisharium, you’ll notice the walls are made of textured glass that depicts the different life in the river. Bins with paper and colored pencils are mounted on the wall, inviting guests to create their own rubbings and drawings from the sandblasted wall patterns, as a take-home memento of their experience.

Get Recommendations for More Exploration

As you near the end of the exhibit, there is a wall with a touchscreen that invites you to take a kind of personality test: “Which Watershed Hero Are You?” Answer with your interests, and you are assigned a “hero” that leads you to different local watershed partners where you can expand your nature education and fun—examples include The Discovery Center, Bartram’s Garden, and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge—and categorize them as “day trip” or “around town,” depending on your time commitment. Next to the quiz, there is a wall of postcards (one for each location, each with information like its web address and a short description) that you can take with you so you don’t forget to visit your match!


“River Alive!” is destined to make Independence Seaport Museum a more interactive and accessible space, and serve its missions of education and conservation. The exhibit is included in the price of admission– $17 for adults, $12 for children, free for kids age 2 and under; free for members. Supporting Members of Philadelphia Family get $2 off the price of admission. Independence Seaport Museum is located at 211 S. Columbus Boulevard in Philadelphia, and is open daily from 10 am—5 pm (Note: closed on Mondays in the winter months).


Photographs by Laura Swartz.


Contributing Writer