Posts Tagged ‘University of Wisconsin’

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.


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.


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…


Recent Artwork

November 18, 2010

Hello friends,

Sorry I have not blogged in a while. I have been very busy working on my M.A. show. Anyway, If you have not heard, there is a small dispute going on in Wisconsin. The Governor has created a false panic concerning our budget. It is actually an attempt to stick it to the working class. If you are unsure, look up the Wisconsin State Debt on the internet and divide it by the population of Wisconsin and you will find out that if each person sent a check for $1237.oo that we would be out of debt. ( not to count the millions that Walker gave in takes breaks to corporations at the beginning of February). Anyway, in an effort to protest both the Governor’s bill and the lack of creative signs, three of my fellow art students helped build this protest sign. Wisculpture Grads, Sam Isham-Shopfh, and Hongtao Zhou helped frame it up, and metalsmith Erica Meijer helped me finish it and march tonight. Hopefully we will have it out tomorrow when the Tea-Party shows up. The cardboard was provided by Willy Street Coop, and Ace Hardware on Williamson. Thanks to all who helped and to all who have been supporting us and the Badger State.

Hello friends,

Many days, I ask myself “where did all of my time go?” I sometimes search around for the answer over and over until, I decide to get images taken of my work. The photographer sits down with me and asks, “What all do we have to shoot?” My answer always begins by telling them that I don’t have much at all since I have been too busy to make art. I then begin to list all projects personal, private, commercial, institutional… then it comes to me: Fuck! that is where all of my time went.

This summer I was fortunate enough to work at the Madison Children’s Museum. The old Museum on State Street had closed while the new larger building was being remade into a world-class children’s museum on Hamilton St. As an exhibit worker, I got to work at the offsite shop on Washington Square. It was a beautiful shop with all glass windows facing the Yahara River where the Wisconsin Southern Railroad crosses onto the Isthmus. As the staff increased (as well as the size of the projects) We expanded to an adjacent space in the same building that could house its own metalshop while building three large exhibits simultaneously.

It is a great job when they hire you and say they are looking to buy an airplane for you to tear apart and build exhibits out of. I began by building small random items that would be used as counter weights for the high flying dairy between the first and third floors. It was kind of a shake down to get me adjusted and gauge my skills. I then began working on a variety of projects that required child-proofing, special anchoring systems etc. until we got the call… Someone located a slightly wrecked Beechcraft trainer that came with extra parts for a Cessna 152. I found my dream job! I felt like I should have been paying them!  We knew the first project. We had met with an architect and the exhibit director and knew that we had to create a learning station from part of the fuselage. It would be called Tinkerer’s Workshop and children would use it to experiment with simple projects that could be taught in a fast paced public setting.  That is all for today. I will provide more images later with exhibits that I helped with. Nothing is actually mine. Almost every project was a collaboration as the Museum hired or contracted over 100 of the best Makers in the area. It was an amazingly talented group to work with and we truly believe that we could have built anything that could be dreamed with our staff of artists and craftspeople. Have a great day! enjoy the winter. My new website should be running as I am finishing this semester. I changed to Adobe and have to learn HTML now. PEACE!