Archive for the ‘Museum’ Category

The Power of Falling Short

November 19, 2017

Graduate School taught me to “Fail” regularly. I often told myself that in the “real” world that I would have the tools to not fail. I would set goals and keep knocking them out. Great joy comes from lining through a completed item on a list. Just over a year ago, I got a “real” job back in my field. I began as the Director of Museum Experiences at Children’s Museum of Illinois. Life has taught me to take an advantage of that first day of work, while energy is high to write every thought, goal, message, personal notes to self down on my legal pad. The first task of not failing has to be documenting everything that needs accomplished!

One of the phrases that my Executive Director shared with me on my first day, was “Make people’s experiences awesome.” I held on to that quip as I felt it was very honest and a bit vaporous. Over the course of a year, I referred back to it often when I found myself in a quandary about how to proceed forward with an element of some object. Should I find myself “failing”, this phrase would help re-calibrate my course. At the end of the first week, I had created a list- a long list- a long list with half-crazy unattainable goals to use my ability as a creative to put my stank all over this museum.

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Crane Day event in conjunction with O’Shea Builders and BLDD Architects. 15 Nov 2017.

My lofty goals included repainting every wall in the 15,000 sq.ft. facility. Inventory, and reset the maintenance shop, install 3-4 new exhibits, repair every broken exhibit piece in the museum, establish Standard Operating Procedures, an OSHA approved safety program… I am serious. The list went on like a runaway letter to Santa. All of the way to the “5-year plan.” Glad I did not over-do it.

 

I started right in on the first exhibit installation. It was a rather new purchase that had been sitting idle in a classroom awaiting a permanent installation. Maintenance immediately painted the entire wall that it was to be installed on. Electrician ran wiring. I designed, cut and applied all of the graphics. worked some late nights and BOOM! -first exhibit down. That was also the last exhibit to go smooth. By our first event, an excited group of 7-year old kids found a flaw in the design. They learned that if you smack it hard enough, all of the parts will fall to the inside. The following Monday was spent with our new Maintenance worker, uninstalling the brand new exhibit so that we could make modifications. I have learned in the Children’s Museum world, that “modification” is a commonly used word. There are other popular words that are used on Monday mornings I will exclude those from this post. In short, kids are stronger than one may think.

20170303_091942_HDR.jpg     Late winter found me trudging along- still positive, still updating parts for special events, developing exhibit upgrades, working toward awesome. A detail that I have yet to mention is about the “5-year plan.” The first week of my employment, my Executive Director called me in her office and basically asked if I could alter that to a “1-year plan!” [spew hot coffee now] Yes, sure I told her. I still remember the day. It was late November and raining. I was wearing fancy clothes walking around the property measuring to find the best way to expand the facility. As I sat at my desk feeling the water weep through my fancy clothes and shoes, I sketched. I measured, drafted, colored, and drew multiple ideas until I had a workable design.

20170804_114517.jpg    Meanwhile, we received a grant to build out a new Toddler area in our museum. I thought, no problem, I will build this in house to make the most out of awesome. Then another grant came through to build a previously conceived exhibit, then a collections exhibit that had been in the works, then a giant eyeball. Somewhere during that craziness, our “5-year plan” that turned into a “1-year plan” was awarded funding by a very generous donor. [face palm, up eyebrow, head shake]

At a few points (like building a 1/2 scale train engine in my home studio) I thought I was going to lose my brain. My days were spent doing director stuff, then I would come home at night and work on exhibits in my studio. My amazing wife actually served lunch to me one Sunday in the cab of the toddler train engine. I always tell myself that this is what makes awesome. And you know that the opposite of awesome is failure.

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Early rendering of Heroes Hall Expansion. Courtesy BLDD Architects/Chastain & Associates.

Fast forward to last week. I hit my One-year mark and somewhere between meeting with our Construction Manager and ordering custom parts for the local college, I thought that I should take note of what actually did happen in the last year. Two weeks prior, I had just met with my Right-hand-Maintenance Lady discussing how many walls were still left to be painted before she took some time off.

In contrast with the many remaining items on the list, I looked back at those job folders that returned to the file cabinet because they made it off of a list. We ended up installing 6 exhibits in a year. This is a rate of about one every 10 weeks. A safety program has been implemented and our facility is up to code. We have an updated color palette that is being reflected in about 90% of the building. Outreach has been increased and we have started developing traveling exhibit pieces to enhance our rental catalog. We are in the process of adding 7000 sq.ft. of exhibit space. (first floor pours next week) Our land lease has also been extended by about 15,000 sq.ft. for future exhibit development. Most of our changes will become very obvious over the next few months.

I often read articles posted by The International Institute for Failure Studies to get my bearings on the idea of failing. Andrew Salyer highlights unique juxtapositions as to what is referred to as a failure. At times, I feel like I work for Ice Road Truckers while gremlins toss random appliances in front of me. After stepping back to reflect, I have realized that you never stop failing. You just find creative challenges to questions that you did not ask. If I could provide one ounce of productive value for this post it would be: Scratching tasks off of a list can be very rewarding. It may seem that we are falling short because we see that The to-do list is still there, so throw those completed tasks in a jar. Weigh what is completed with what remains on the list. Now, to finish painting those last couple of walls…

 

STEAM

December 22, 2016

As always, I get busy with the hands on parts of my life and run late doing things like…blogging. I told you this summer that I was brewing up a program to promote STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math).I had just secured a group of websites for “steamworks.” I had recently secured a handful of websites with the name “steamworks” and felt that I had to brand this and investigate learning practices.

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How many times have you heard the story about the Uncle that could fix anything? It always starts the same: “When Frank was young, he would take apart anything he got his hands on.” With a reply from the Uncle explaining that by deconstructing household items, gave him the knowledge and confidence to make/fix/repurpose things. This spurred me to tinker with the idea of “no instructions needed(R).”

I began by locating a venue while developing a two day learning program. The tie-in was “STEAM” so I chose a standardised model railroad element to introduce kids to the concept of STEAM while actually applying it. After hitting up some area businesses for funding, I put together a package for each participant that included a modular wooden base kit, an N-scale (1:160) railcar and some random details. Now, we could have set around and followed the instructions and worked as a class to get everything built at once, mount their track and off they went. But, what would they learn? As they opened their module kits, I collected everyone’s instruction sheets. I informed them that they would not need them and threw them away. Instead, they were provided with blueprints and standards for a final product. They immediately began to experiment and figure out how to build their base modules. As some finished, they assisted the other participants to keep the whole class moving forward. When their wooden modules were 20161112_113841complete, they had to choose from a random box of N-Scale track pieces to come up with the exact final measurements for their required module. All of a sudden, the class was waist deep in rulers, calculators, digital calipers, hammers and power drills. This is the magic that I live for! Skipping ahead, after the second class, parents had looks of amazement on their faces. I am not sure if it was the fact that their children were adept at using math and power tools or the fact that someone let me do this in public.

20161203_102328After class one, the kids got to choose paint and landscape details to take home with them while they prepared for the final reveal. During this time, I accepted a new position for a Children’s Museum because I did not have enough going on in life! More on that later…

On December 3rd, our Steamworks team reconvened at Blue Mound Memorial Library to set up their finished works while visitors came to see Mr. & Mrs. Claus. After twenty minutes of set-up and minor tweaking, the children had two steam engines pulling train cars around the 3′ x 7′ assembled layout. It is also of note that gender had no influence on the participants or the visitors. Everyone fought the same to get their time running each train.

I would like to send out a special thank you to our local supporters of the program:

Blue Mound Firefighters Association, Legacy Grain, Dippin’ Merv’s, Castle Trains & Treasures, Blue Mound Memorial Library. With you, these local children gained skills and confidence that can be used as they seek out their careers in a few years.

Virginia Bound…

July 29, 2016

First, some quick updates on this past spring: We have been working with industrial furniture. Rescued an old Science class table and gave it some Sandberg Creative love. It now lives in Dallas, TX. Spent the early spring selling old school lockers and keeping a few for my own studio. Spare time has include finishing up on some random art pieces. (Industrial-Joman Teapot) (Small problems #1)

Early June, I took a planned research trip to Virginia. It was an overdue trip as my list of subjects and places in Virginia had grown to excess by the time I set out. After a couple of days and several hundred miles in my travels, I met up with a friend from college, Manda Remmen and we went on a mission to check out some of the sites photographed by O. Winston Link. (our most alluring part of the mission was trying to identify the bell tower from Link’s sounRural Retreatd piece “Rural Retreat.” We found a good candidate but will have to dig deeper.  I took many reference photos along the way as I was also researching architecture along the Pre-1964 Norfolk and Western Railway mainline. After a quick tour to the start of the Bristol “Virginia Creeper” line and miles of trekking along  highway 81, we finally found where Elvis had stopped to pee. We toured around Emory and Henry college, where my friend teaches art. They actually still have been using the original N&W depot for various administrative departments. After some local fare, we settled down to discuss the days findings. In the morning, I took off on a rambling trip toward Roanoke. At Roanoke, I checked out the Virginia Museum of Transportation. This museum, with VERY DEDICATED staff and volunteers accomplished the highly complicated (and expensive task) of restoring a steam engine to operate pretty much as it was built through their fireup611 campaign. I have to admit that I am a bit nostalgic about the locomotive Class “J” 611 as I have childhood memories attached to this engineering marvel. The VMT was one of my most anticipated stops on the trip but I was somewhat let down. Overall, I liked it and am very glad that I went. On the other hand, I felt like many of the exhibits were very aged. I believe that at one point I found a “click tape” label on one of the older displays. If they do another capital campaign, I would love to direct the exhibits department to help create a modern, interactive group of exhibits for all ages. I understand how funding streams work, and wish that they could uncover other streams to help bring other areas of the museum up to the quality of their steam program. For instance, the children’s area which was located at the far end of the railroad platform in dirty sand by an old storage shed. No one would even be able to see their children if they were brave enough to let them stay there. I would have felt more comfortable allowing my kids to play on splintered, rusted railroad detritus than the out dated playground equipment that was present.

After a long day at VMT, I was pushing time but decided to squeeze my visit to the O. Winston Link museum back in to my itinerary. After entering the former Norfolk & Western Depot and paying my entry fee, I walked down the glass walled staircase to the museum on the lower level. upon entry, I was welcomed by a floor-to-ceiling 20-foot black and white wall print of one of Link’s prints wallpapered down the hall. How glorious! This museum was done right! multiple prints, physical exhibits, sound pieces and collections. It was refreshing to see a museum that I felt like I new the artist by the end. I was traveling with him emotionally on a 6 year journey of time tables, late nights and friends that trusted in him the passion that he was trying to document.  After visiting, I do feel that it may have been skewed toward adults, and a bit safe as museums go. I would have loved to see a digital room with props that kids and adults could attempt to light and photograph. Overall, it was well done and very much worth the last minute addition to my time in Roanoke.

After a bit of BBQ, I began my journey up highway 80 toward Front Royal, VA just outside of D.C. The morning held a unique experience that would flood back childhood memories. Months prior to my trip, I had purchased tickets to ride the Norfolk and Western Class J #611. As a child, the Norfolk & Western/ Norfolk Southern would use this rescued locomotive to carry the brass on summer trips around the Eastern half of the U.S. As a child, when we heard the 611 was coming through, we would head several blocks across town to my Grandparent’s house by the Decatur to STL mainline. We would wait for hours until we could hear the distinct bellow from the “Queen of Steam” and listen to it build until it broke out of town and barreled south across the prairie. These feelings boiled back up into me as I waited at 6:00am for the newly restored 611 to pull into Front Royal.FullSizeRender

Nursing a hangover from a convenient club across from the depot, I sucked it up and searched for a location to get a decent video. I began to hear the distinct low notes of the J’s whistle as it was rounding through town toward the station.  It would be a fine time to note that a high-pressured “Modern” steam locomotive that was built to operate 20 car trains at 80mph, has very little in common with our childhood sense of a “choo choo.” As a J approaches you, the breathing of such a beast becomes alive to you. the “chuffs” of it’s enormous cylinders feel like small explosions. The soot and steam inundate you as it slowly powers by you and a blast of the whistle is enough to cancel out the speaker in your cell phone. As the cacophony of pounding, hissing, vibrating, and squealing passed behind the parking garage I hustled down to my car, the Ohio, and boarded. In a few minutes we began moving. It was anti-climatic as riding behind a Class J was just as smooth and quiet as a modern Amtrak. I would forget that I was riding behind a 75 year old piece of American forged machinery that could shake the fillings out of your teeth if it were not for the occasional glimpse of the locomotive out of the window when gliding around the Appalachian curves.

Next month, I will be talking about another kind of steam: the STEAM kind. so put on your teacher/Learner hats and check back for the new programs that we are currently developing at Sandbergcreative that may be coming to a Learning Center near you!

 

Peace, Art, & Education