Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teens Inspire Young Children through Chagall

This is a second post about the Chagall Window's Project at DCM by Marcia MacRae, our Interdisciplinary Art Specialist. Read about how the Chagall inspired art panels created by area teens inspired our young visitors in the Museum.

While the high schoolers were ready to paint for the DuPage Children's Museum's Chagall Windows Project, they were not prepared for the reactions of the Museum's young visitors.  Fascinated toddlers watched every stroke with their noses pressed to the windows of our Studio.  Several young elementary school children were in awe, disappointed that they could not join in the project, but proud to proclaim that they wanted to be artists when they grew up.  The high school artists were seen as heroes:  young enough to relate to, yet old enough to be impressive inspirations.

Initially, we had hoped to interest several high school artists in this project.  We were stunned by the response.  Why would over 50 high school students want to spend their free time doing something for a children's museum?  We discovered that the opportunities to create art for the public and to inspire young children were powerful draws for this group.  Perhaps they were inspired watching teenagers work when they were youngsters.  Whether creating the art or toddling past it, this DuPage Children's Museum venture was a winning endeavor for all ages involved!

The high school students were honored at Chagall Windows reception, hosted by NBC news reporter Lauren Jiggetts.  You can view photos of this event on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teens Inspired by Chagall

This week's post is written by Marcia MacRae, Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist for DuPage Children's Museum.  Marcia shares with us the process of  creating the Chagall Windows project with local high school students in conjunction with our temporary exhibit, Chagall for Children.

Inspired by Marc Chagall's stained glass America Windows, recently reinstalled at the Art Institute of Chicago, 50 students and their art teachers from 7 area high schools interpreted the idea of "children at play" in his style.  The students shared their creativity and skill with their collaborative teams, with the children visiting the Museum and, now, with everyone passing the Washington Street windows of DCM.

Dreaming of Adventures
Many of the high school students recalled fond memories of childhood visits to the Museum, but far from playing, they took this project on with great seriousness, arriving with carefully detailed sketches or complete life-size drawings.  Many gave up weekends and multiple afternoons to accomplish their goals.  Each team knew they would receive four-foot square, clear panels and a quantity of acrylic paint. Otherwise, they were free to conceptualize their own versions of the subject.  Look closely and you will see elements taken from the Museum's website, local landmarks, Chagall's art and from the students' personal memories of childhood play.  The finished works are as unique as the artists themselves.
Inspired by the Wind Tunnel in AirWorks

Inspired by Dandelion Fountain at the River Walk in Naperville

Inspired by exhibits in Make It Move
Stay tuned!  Next week's post will highlight how these teen artists inspired some of our younger visitors!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Using Observations to Modify Exhibits

In a second post about our Museum's prototyping process, Peter Crabbe, Associate Director of Exhibits and Design, shares how we use observation during prototype experiences at DCM.

After creating a prototype we temporarily install the exhibit on the Museum floor to see what kinds of interactions our visitors will have.  Trained observers, who act as our eyes and ears, write a detailed description of what happens at the prototype as children play with it.  The observers are often Museum volunteers.  The volunteer observers are extremely important to us because, unlike the exhibit developer, designer, or fabricators, who are very close to and vested in the project, they tend to observe more impartially.  Even with the best of intentions, the people working closely designing and developing the project will be more inclined to see only what they want to see.

After a few observations, we collect all the field notes and look to see what the children and families have been doing with the prototype.  We will often see something similar written in almost all the field notes: if such a trend emerges, it prompts us to modify the prototype and then observe again to see if modification improves the exhibit.  For example, we are currently observing a prototype for a new version of our Roller Coaster exhibit because we want children to find it physically easy to use in joining the pipes together and we want it to encourage a more free form type of ramp and tube building in the space provided for this experience.  I have visions of the children making large curvilinear tube ramps wrapped around columns like a spiraling amusement park ride or configuring tubes in which balls build momentum going down a steep run only to go back up again before making their final descent to the exit.  From reading the field notes, however, it is clear that we need to cut some shorter tubes and observe the prototype again to see if it is easier for younger as well as older children to use.

Building exhibits is expensive.  Prototyping is a way to ensure that an exhibit not only looks engaging, but also meets its educational goal, is intrinsically interesting and fun for children, and makes clear to people what the exhibit is inviting them to do.

We keep records of the field notes and the prototyping summary so that they can be useful for the future.  Our hope is that the body of work will be a basis for future Museum staff who will one day develop other exhibits at DCM.

If you want to see the final product, stay tuned!  In a future post we'll share how we determined the design changes and show you the final product, our new and improved Roller Coaster exhibit.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Exhibit Prototyping

This week's post is written by Peter Crabbe, Associate Director of Exhibits and Design for DuPage Children's Museum.  Peter will be sharing a series of posts for our readers this month about our Museum's prototyping process.  Leave a comment or ask a question as we look at this process together.

The exhibit prototyping process is one of the favorite parts of my job here at DuPage Children's Museum (DCM).  It's our opportunity to find out if what we have predicted on paper will actually work in practice or  to test out something that we are unsure will work.  Prototyping exhibits helps us to finalize their design to a point where we are confident that the final product is something that children will find interesting and fun, and meets the educational goals of the exhibit.

Children often surprise us, using the exhibit prototypes in unexpected ways.  This helps us to modify what we are doing to better meet their needs, which can mean tweaking what we intended, re-designing or even going in a completely different direction we hadn't intended!

We use the prototyping stage to answer questions about practical issues, such as how high off the ground to make something so children can easily reach it, how to engineer something and the best way to ensure that the exhibit is safe.  Finally, it is a chance for us to invite our visitors to participate in helping us create and improve the experiences at DCM.

How does the prototyping process work?  Once we have figured out what an exhibit is about and what type of exploration we want to encourage in children, we typically do a rough sketch or concept design.  Sometimes we can't answer all our questions, such as how interesting children will find the exhibit, if it will work technically or if people will know what to do with it without signage just from looking at a sketch or drawing; that's when we need to prototype.  Our fabricators will then build a rough prototype in our Museum fabrication shop.  The prototype is a temporary structure made quickly and inexpensively, and left unpainted.  However, any working or moving parts have to be fully functional.  Sometimes the prototypes have a distinctly Rube Goldberg look about them.

Stay tuned!  Find out about our visitor interactions with prototypes in a future post!