In the upper reaches of the Story Museum, there’s big trouble in a little anthill. For their latest exhibition, Brilli-ANT, visitors take on the role of ants trying to find solutions to the environmental issues that humans (or ‘two-legs’) have brought to the place their colony calls home. Fortunately, there are plenty of friends across the meadow to help you find your way.
On entry, guests don a set of cardboard ‘feelers’ equipped with a sensor, which interacts with strategically placed pink flowers across the exhibit to bring each segment to life. Brilli-ANT’s visual design is unabashedly charming; sunny, engaging, and because of its construction from largely recycled materials,full of character. It has a delightful Honey, I Shrunk the Kids sensibility to it (although I will say if the cricket is to scale, I’d be pretty concerned to have that skittering across my feet). If this were the set of an ongoing TV show, I would watch every episode. You can really feel the care and skill that’s gone into crafting this set, and especially the colourful cast who inhabit it.
On your travels you’ll meet other insects happy to lend a hand to help you save the colony. Their tips are based on behaviours each insect exhibits in the natural world - for instance, a bee lending a lift to a tiny mite teaches kids about the importance of helping others and travelling collectively, while the aforementioned cricket uses its collective chirping to talk about the importance of making your voice heard. The character designs are a treat, full of personality and approachable without being overly cutesy. It’s a really lovely premise predicated on the natural world as a place of community, adaptation and ingenuity, backed by an all-star cast (if you ever wanted to hear dung-beetle Derek Jacobi extolling the virtues of recycling via the medium of poo, now’s your chance). I particularly enjoyed Julian Clary as Scout the Superworm, a variety of worm that adapted an enzyme to help it digest polystyrene (see, I’m 26 and even I learned something new!).
With each insect encounter, you collect a set of letters that spell out the best way to tackle climate change. At the risk of going all Mary Poppins, there’s no better way to teach kids than by making the lesson a game, and this is a great, accessible tool to introduce them to concepts like protest, mutual aid and collective action in a way that will really stick in the mind (although parents might have to give younger kids a bit of a boost height-wise for the sensor to properly connect). Once you’ve found all the clues, you can scan them at the exhibition’s main screen for a final score, and even place a call via rotary phone to your distant ant cousin in Brazil to share what you’ve learnt and what changes you hope to see in the world around you.
The room is also dotted with book covers of further reading on each theme the exhibit explores, and every single one of them can be found in the cardboard tree trunk at the exhibition’s centre - if you want to linger, there are plenty of bean bags to retreat to for some quiet time.
I’ll admit that the exhibition doesn’t go into too much detail about pollution’s biggest contributors, which are definitely industrial rather than individual. The protest section, for instance, encourages young people to make their voice heard, but doesn’t really elaborate on what to fight against. The blame for pollution is definitely traced back to us ‘two-legs’ in general, rather than, say, fossil fuel companies or the meat industry. While going into those things in more detail would probably be more at home with an older audience, I don’t think it would hurt to at least point out that the most harm comes from big companies rather than little people, and that while taking individual responsibility is great, it can only make so much difference if we don’t tackle the main offenders as well.
But all-in-all, this is another little triumph for the Story Museum, with an ingenious concept and a hopeful, but necessary, message. It’s a celebration of biodiversity that I hope will have all its visitors wondering what other lessons they can learn right in their own backyard.