Saturday, September 26, 2009

Could Frank Oppenheimer Get Hired To Run A Museum Today?


One tiny, but striking, section of K.C. Cole's biography of Frank Oppenheimer (the founder of The Exploratorium) entitled something incredibly wonderful happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up  is the section that quotes F. Van Kasper, the former chairman of The Exploratorium's board: 

Frank couldn't get hired to run the Exploratorium today, Van told me.  "Frank couldn't get hired to run any museum today."  And because the job of director was now seen mainly as a matter of fundraising, "he wouldn't want to be hired either."

If that doesn't sum up the current state of science centers (and perhaps all modern museums, at least in the U.S. with its execrable governmental funding structure toward cultural institutions) I don't know what does.

Part of the reason the quote about Frank Oppenheimer struck me so much is that I've been thinking about a panel I'll be part of at the upcoming ASTC Conference called "Are Science Centers Missing The Science?"   One of the thoughts I keep circling back to as I prepare my talk is the willingness of many museum directors to bring any "dog and pony show" to their institution, no matter how tangentially related to their mission, in the hopes of raising funds.

The museum field needs more passionate (and even eccentric) leaders like Frank Oppenheimer.  But the museum field also needs more funding, widely distributed to all types and sizes of museums, to allow more diverse leadership styles (and by extension, more diverse museum offerings) the space to flourish.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Missing MacArthur Fellow



The MacArthur Foundation just announced the class of 2009 for the "genius grants." And while I sincerely congratulate this year's winners, for the past several years I keep finding a glaring omission from the list of awardees.

That would be the artist and creator of kinetic sculptures, Arthur Ganson.



If anyone has "shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" to quote the grant standards, it is Arthur Ganson.  To further quote from the MacArthur website: "There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work."  Again an apt description of Arthur and his work.

Rather than speak in greater detail for Arthur or his work,  I'll just direct you to his excellent website, and the wonderful video from the TED Conference embedded above.

Creative work is often un(der)appreciated work, and while many wonderful artists, craftspeople, and facile thinkers will never receive the recognition they deserve, I hope that Arthur Ganson soon becomes part of the cadre of MacArthur award winners.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Smaller Is Better" Project Roundup



Here's a roundup of several "Smaller Is Better" (SIB) projects that were submitted after our recent post on the subject:

• Darla Abigt from the Western Center for Archaelogy & Paleontology sent info about a "SIB" exhibit called “Art meets Science.” It was inspired by the KEVA planks that are used in the Western Center's education programs.

It's an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to employ their imaginations and creativity by building with a simple wooden block.  In addition, themed competitions and events have inspired the community to work together and create truly unique and beautiful designs in the exhibit gallery --- all while learning the rules of gravity, balance and engineering. Take a look at their Photobucket Album or the photo above for examples of visitor creations.
 

• For another "Smaller Is Better" project, Alex Hayes wrote about how the "family business" (including his father David Hayes and uncle John Hayes) worked with the city of White Plains and local developers to install 62 Large sculptures around town. You can see an example below, or check out David Hayes' website to see more examples of the White Plains project, and other installations done throughout the country with smaller cultural institutions.




• Lastly, Michael Nugent wrote about his work with the Acadiana Center for the Arts (AcA.)

Here's what Michael had to say:

"I am an artist from Lafayette, Louisiana and have been working on contract for a local museum, the Acadiana Center for the Arts (AcA), as an Exhibition Preparator. It's a great and inspiring place to visit as well as work (although I am a bit partial). The AcA has had some impressive exhibitions, even somewhat controversial and progressive for the South. A performing arts theater is currently being added which will double the square footage of the facilities - in all about 50,000 sq. ft.

Artist Heidi Cody came through the main gallery with her collection entitled "Suggested Retail Value," and transformed the space into a wonderland of abstracted modern advertising. It was the most challenging installation we've seen at the AcA.

Probably the most famous artist from Louisiana, George Rodrigue, showed a retrospective of his work at the AcA. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by the $30 million worth of artwork - installing it was quite an experience as well.



A recent exhibit, the Southern Open, displayed work by artists from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Around 400 artists submitted nearly 1000 works of art this year. 59 artists and 72 pieces of art were selected. Eleanor Heartney was the juror for the exhibition.

The previous Head Curator, Rose Courville, was responsible for these and many other great exhibits. She recently moved to Maryland with her husband, and I will miss working with her."





Great work all around!  If you would like to share information about an exhibition doing more with less, please contact me so I can let ExhibiTricks readers know about your projects as well.




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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Brought To Life: Exploring The History Of Medicine

 
We've written previously about cool web-based resources here at ExhibiTricks that help explicate information about the human body, but I recently came across a website with a slightly more focused approach.

The Science Museum in London has created a site called "Brought To Life" that aims to provide resources and activities concerning the history of medicine.  Drawing upon the Science Museum's vast collections and educational expertise, the Brought To Life site includes great information about a range of medical-related topics including hospitals, epidemics, and my personal favorite --- the history of surgery and surgeon's tools.

Naturally there's enough multimedia fun to keep kids busy, as well as a great many photographs of collection objects and in-depth explanation of medical topics that will be of use to students and teachers.

All in all,  Brought To Life is a great website to check out and add to your bookmarks.  Who knows the next time you might have to gather some information about bone saws?

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back To (Exhibit) School Reading List

With school starting back up, I thought I'd share my "required reading" list of some favorite museum references --- books I keep coming back to over and over again as I think about and design exhibits.

"User Friendly: Hands-On Exhibits That Work" is Jeff Kennedy's excellent book, which is available through ASTC's Publications Division.  Jeff's book is packed with photographs of examples (both good and bad) of visitor interfaces.  Topics such as the best ways to place crank handles and switches, options for seating near components, and viewing ports and devices are discussed and well-illustrated. The ergonomic tables showing optimum reach distances or viewing heights for adults, children, and visitors in wheelchairs are worth the price of the book alone.

The McMaster-Carr Catalog.
While not strictly a textbook, both the big yellow catalog, and the on-line version, of McMaster's offerings are both great places to find the parts (and inspiration!)  you need for your exhibits projects --- sometimes even things you didn't realize existed!   Gears, switches, fasteners, Velcro, railroad wheels  --- you name it, they've got it --- in quantities either large or small, and usually shipped to you the next day.


Fostering Active Prolonged Engagement: The Art of Creating APE Exhibits
is a book based on the NSF-funded study at the Exploratorium of exhibits, and exhibit environments, that foster active, prolonged engagement in visitors --- hence the acronym APE.  What I like about this book is that it really delves into the process of tinkering and refining exhibits to make them more effective.  Each APE exhibit example gives you a sense of the individual exhibit developer's struggles and triumphs toward the goal of increased visitor learning and engagement, as well as providing concrete materials lists and references so you can build your own versions of the exhibit components described.

Lastly, here's a "history" book of sorts, K.C. Cole's  Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the world he made up.  Even if you've never had the opportunity to visit the Exploratorium (and especially if you have) the story of Frank Oppenheimer, and his philosophy toward life and science education, are incredibly wonderful.

Have a book recommendation of your own?  Tell us about it in the "Comments Section" below.



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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Your Museum Should Hire Amisha Gadani


After a recent ExhibiTricks post suggesting that one way to get more interesting new ideas into museums is to, well, hire some young(er) people (who are not part of "the usual museum suspects") with interesting new ideas, I made a promise to highlight some folks who fit that description.


So let me introduce you to Amisha Gadani. As you can see from Amisha's website, and some of the images throughout this post, not only does Amisha have impeccable academic credentials, but artistic/mechanical/electronic chops as well (as evidenced by the wonderfully cool "blowfish dress" featured in the video near the bottom of this post.)



After earning her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 2007, Amisha joined the staff of the Exploratorium and has been there ever since. At the museum she works primarily as an educator and shop assistant. Amisha has also joined an exhibit development project called Geometry Playground where she develops activities designed to increase the depth of visitor experiences in an exhibition.

But true to her Pennsylvanian roots, Amisha would like to find a job on the East Coast, and true to her creative roots, she wants
a full-time position making exhibits in a museum. So check out Amisha's website, or contact her to set up an interview (before some other museum beats you to it!)



video


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