Friday, October 31, 2008

MagPie Time



A new show called MagPie Time is coming out to show kids (and their adult friends) how to make crafty projects using recycled and reused materials. Their plan is to show step-by-step instructions for every project featured. MagPie Time will be a great resource for museum folks looking for project ideas.

MagPie Time looks like a cross between Pee Wee's Playhouse and MAKE magazine. In fact, some of MagPie's team were involved with the original Pee Wee show. Check out the talking ball of yarn!

For more info, click to view the MagPie Time website as well as the teaser video above.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Green Design Resource: Earth911.com

One aspect of the emphasis on "green design" that is often overlooked is how to properly recycle scrap or waste exhibit materials that cannot be reused.

For example, many museums are switching to more energy-efficient lighting like Compact Fluorscent Lights (CFLs). However, even CFLs burn out eventually, and each bulb contains a small amount of mercury, so CFLs shouldn't just be pitched into the dumpster.

Similarly, even the empty cans from low VOC (Volatile Organic Componds) finishes need to be properly recycled.

The problem is that it's not easy to know where to properly recycle every type of product or container.

That's where a site like Earth911.com comes in! Besides being packed with lots of great tips about living and working greener, there is a handy form at the top of the homepage that lets you enter the type of stuff you'd like to recycle and your location to find the nearest recycling facility that accepts your particular leftover materials or scrap.

(By the way, most Home Depot locations now accept used CFLs for recycling, even if you didn't buy them there originally.)

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why Can't Art Museums Have More Interactive Exhibits?

And why can't Science Museums and Children's Museums (the traditionally "hands-on museums) have more "hands-off" (minds-on?) artworks on display?

I started thinking some more about this since I recently opened an exhibition entitled "The Animated Artwork of Laura Vaccaro Seeger" at The Nassau County Museum of Art here on Long Island. (It's up until January 4th, 2009, so if you're in the area, come take a look!)

The exhibition includes interactive exhibits and installations that naturally dovetail with themes like light and color, metamorphosis, and negative space that show up in the award-winning children's books that Laura writes and illustrates. This would definitely NOT be a big deal if I was designing this sort of show at a "hands-on" museum, but this was the first time that NCMA had put on a show with so many deliberately interactive exhibit pieces. Initially the museum staff were even a little freaked out by having loose books in the gallery (in a show by an author!)
so we compromised by mounting the books on "reading shelves" attached to the walls.

Shows like the art museum show, "Take Your Time" by Olafur Eliasson, incorporate stunning pieces that, with a little tweaking, could make equally amazing science museum exhibits. But since Eliasson's pieces are "art" they are not meant to be touched, or interacted with physically, at least inside of an art museum.

At issue seems to be the context that people (with or without young children in tow) approach different types of museums. The atmosphere in most art museums is on the level of a library --- hushed tones, silent contemplation, and guards occasionally telling people to settle down. One of the complaints from guards (but not visitors!) in the Laura Vaccaro Seeger show is that some of the interactive pieces make noise, or cause the visitors to make noise!

Of course most science centers and children's museums often seem like a cross between a fun house and a race track --- frenetic busy activity, and experiences that seem to invite chaos more than contemplation. So is it possible to introduce contemplative experiences into such active spaces?

I remember speaking with Bernie Zubrowski about a piece that he developed and displayed at The Exploratorium, entitled "The Ghost of Amelia Earhart". The piece incorporated a silky piece of fabric (Amelia's scarf?) immersed in a tank of water being gently swirled by currents. There are interesting moire patterns caused when the fabric overlaps, as well as mysterious shadows formed by the lighting inside the tank.

When I saw Bernie's piece at The Exploratorium, I loved it. Unfortunately, I was one of the very few visitors to take the time to pay attention to its subtle pleasures. Despite being a treasure trove of art and science exhibits, The Exploratorium wasn't really conducive to a piece like Bernie's which required quiet concentration from the viewer. However, "The Ghost of Amelia Earhart" would have been very well received in an art museum or gallery show.

So how can we get art museums to "loosen up" on their approach to exhibits and visitor interactions, or should we?

What about more getting "interactive museums" to provide more contemplative spaces and opportunities?

Or are all types of museums trapped by the genre classifications that they have worked so hard to foster and create?

UPDATE: Here's an interesting article on the subject concerning the "Act/React: Interactive Installation Art" exhibition that will open in Milwaukee in January 2009.

What do you think? Should we just let art museums be art museums, and hands-on museums be hands-on museums, or have you seen exhibits or exhibitions that help blur the lines? Put your thoughts into the "Comments Section" below!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Our First Contest!




In our recent interview with Harry White ("Science Centre Consultant" at TechniQuest Science Center in Cardiff, Wales) we discussed his card deck of Exhibit Aphorisms.

Harry started collecting these quotations, jokes, and provocations about exhibits and exhibit development to use in a university course in Science Communication based in a Science Centre.

Here are two random examples:

"If they had to read the label the exhibit designer blew it."

"Bad exhibit ideas get more complex, good exhibit ideas get simpler."

I found out at the recent ASTC Conference in Philadelphia that Harry has officially "published" a full deck of 54 cards (52 + 2 Jokers) each with a pithy insight into the exhibit development process on the face.

And now two lucky ExhibiTricks readers will each win one of these limited "first edition" decks. (See picture above.)

Here's how to win: between now and the end of October, simply enter into the "Comments Section" below your favorite quote (either "original" or "borrowed") about the exhibit development process OR become an email subscriber to the ExhibiTricks blog (just use the handy box along the right side of the blog to sign up.) We'll choose one person from the commenters, and one from the new email subscribers, and we'll notify the two winners in the first week of November.

Get started, have fun, and good luck!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Exhibit Design Inspiration: Nikon Small World 2008

Nikon has an excellent website listing the winners of their 2008 "Small World" photomicrography competition (and those from previous years as well.)

Check out the gallery page of the Small World 2008 website to see some of the amazing images, such as the view of Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley) shown above created by Albert Tousson.

You can also check out the schedule for the Nikon Small World Museum Tour to see the twenty winning Small World photomicrographs at a museum near you.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

ASTC 2008 Annual Conference



This year's ASTC Conference is in Philadelphia from October 18–21, 2008.

This year's conference will be a bit of a departure for me since I won't be presenting, nor will I be attending many sessions either.

Instead, I'll be happily ensconced in Booth #140 on both Saturday and Sunday showing off my version of the Giant Newton's Cradle. (See YouTube video above.)

If you're attending ASTC this year, come by and say hello!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Exhibit Design Inspiration: Jeremy Mayer


Jeremy Mayer is an artist who creates sculptures from typewriters.

Visit his excellent website to experience the range of his work.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Raisin Brahms!



As a quick follow-up to yesterday's post on museum and arts funding and the U.S. Presidential Election, check out this funny PSA (above) created by the Leo Burnett agency for Americans for the Arts to promote Arts Education.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Does John McCain Hate Museums?



You have to wonder about John McCain's attitude (and funding approach) toward museums given his snide references to an "overhead projector" for the Adler Planetarium or the "Hippie Museum" in Bethel, NY.

Given recent chatter on the MUSEUM-L listserv and postings from bloggers like CultureGrrl, many museum folks are not only wondering about the effects of the economy on museums, but also how the upcoming presidential election may impact the future of U.S. museum funding.

You can find links to the Democratic positions on the Arts on the Barack Obama website, and a head-to-head comparison of both candidates on the Arts Action Fund website. (For reference, Sarah Palin cut museum and library budgets while she was mayor of Wasilla, but made sure to get funding for a new $15 million ice arena )

What do you think? Is a candidate's position on funding for arts and culture (including museums) a reason to vote for him or her, or merely craven self-interest? Let us know in the "Comments Section" below.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Exhibit Designer Toolbox: Ponoko Photomake



Ponoko
is a cool company (and website!) that allows you to upload designs that are then fabricated using laser cutters and materials (like various types of plastic and wood.) It would be excellent if we all had access to tools like laser cutters, but until then, companies like Ponoko help fill the void.

Now, Ponoko has made the remote design/fabrication process even easier by creating a process called "Photomake."

Basically (as the video at the top of this posting illustrates) Photomake eliminates the need for using complicated design software by allowing users to simply draw out their design(s) on paper and then take a digital photograph of same. You submit you digital image(s) via the Ponoko website's interface, choose the material(s) you want the finished version to be created in, and you're good to go. In a short while, Ponoko send you your finished project(s).

I am still very interested in collaborating with a museum (or museums) to set up a "drop in" Design and Fabrication lab that visitors could use to create their own "stuff" with tools like laser cutters and desktop CNC machines. Anyone interested in creating such a space? If so, let me know.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Exhibit Design Inspiration: Alice Chess Set



The "Alice" Chess Set designed by Yasmin Sethi makes use of two interesting lighting materials, LightPoints and Mirona, created by SCHOTT North America, to create its effects.

Inspired by Lewis Carroll's "Alice" stories, the pieces on the chessboard appear or disappear depending on where they are placed.

Sethi made use of LightPoints (a type of glass with wireless LEDs embedded into it) to create the board and Mirona glass for the pieces. (The Mirona glass mirror appears opaque until light is shined upon it.)

What other types of exhibit applications could LightPoints and Mirona be used for?

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