I arrived at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History last Wednesday afternoon, carrying a sleeping bag and the cushion from the bright orange loveseat I scored for free on Craigslist last year. Along with several museum professionals and artists from around the world, I was going to be spending the night at the museum as part of Hack the Museum Camp, the brainchild of Nina Simon, executive director of the MAH who describes it thus: What happens when you give 75 people 48 hours to make an exhibit that challenges museum convention?
The plan was to
work in teams of four or five to create exhibits around artifacts from
the museums permanent collection that are not currently on display. This
is the first time Simon has ever tried anything like this, and despite
her reputation for risk-taking, she was well aware of the stakes. This
is creative risk for everyone. Were giving you our biggest gallery, and
whatever you guys make is going to be up for six weeks, she told the
On Wednesday afternoon, they participated in a white
elephant game to choose which artifacts they would be working with. And
they were not afraid to boo when they did not like what they saw.
oohs and aahs had been emerging from campers lips for a while, as teams
chose sealed boxes and then opened them to reveal descriptions of
things like the first-ever baseball pitching machine, a gravestone and
1960s Boardwalk tickets. But then one team picked a box with a printout
of an oil painting inside. The entire group of 75 collectively booed.
They did not come here to hang oil paintings on walls.
three groups wound up with paintings and most of the other twelve
groups got 3D art objects or historical artifacts. Sarah Margerum of
Boston, whose group got a painting of William F. Cooper, Santa Cruzs
first mayor, sat cross-legged on the ground staring into the portraits
eyes for 10 solid minutes that first night. I caught up with her at
around 9pm, but after three hours of brainstorming, her group was still
stumped on how to best display Mr. Mayor.
I think honestly
museums havent really mastered how to help people look at portraits in a
traditional way, said Margerum. I dont think theyre that good at the
inside of the box way. I think what Im struggling with is how can I do
it really well inside the box and then go beyond that. Her teammate,
Lauren Paullin from Richmond, Virginia added, its hard to imagine
something youve never experienced.
They had fair points. Many of the other groups with less traditional artifacts already had a ton of ideas.You will see indoorpositioningsystem , competitive price and first-class service.We offer a wide variety of high-quality standard granitetiles and
controllers. The group that got a stack of 1960s roller coaster tickets
had zeroed in on their thesis and skipped off to the Boardwalk to ride
the Giant Dipper for themselves, recording the sound of the creaking
wooden ride, plus their screaming, to use in their exhibit.
at the MAH, they sat around a table planning the big red stripes they
were going to paint on the wall behind their exhibit. We can give
ourselves permission to be more garish than other people. Which is
exciting. Because I love garish, said Joel Parsons, who is from
Memphis,We offer a wide variety of high-quality standard granitetiles and controllers. Tennessee.
the end of day one, each group had picked a space in the museums second
floor gallery and committed to having something show-worthy in time for
the exhibits soft opening on Friday night, in just a day and a half.
While some campers made their way back to hotels, many of the younger
campers opted to sleep over in the museum to save money.
the evening meandering about chatting with people, and in typical
reporter fashion, blatantly eavesdropping. On the stage, MAH staff had
set up a tent with an iPad in which people could record
confessional-style experiences about their time at Museum Camp. Around
11:30pm on that first night, two young women commandeered it for a good
half hour, giggling about who was cute and not married.
in the outdoor sculpture garden a group of camperstwo from Philadelphia
and one from North Carolinatalked about how to make people care about
museums. If only they could engage adults the way that little kids are
passionately engaged in memorizing dinosaur facts, they mused over paper
cups of red wine.
Eventually, I made my way downstairs and
crawled into a corner in an otherwise empty room housing an exhibit on
the Soquel baseball team. I lied down on my couch cushion and listened
to the sounds of the other campers echoing through the museum. I heard
laughter from the group up on the sculpture garden, and the noise of
something falling and hitting the floor.
Unlike sleeping alone
in a deserted museum, which I can imagine would be a kind of
otherworldly and creepy, this just kind of felt like crashing out on a
friends floor after a house party. I suppose a couch cushion in the
corner of an exhibit room isnt that much weirder than the time my high
school friend Zach curled up under a kitchen floor mat to sleep off his
New Years Eve buzz.
By afternoon the next day, the campers were ready to prototype.A cleaningservic resembles
a credit card in size and shape. Theyd set up the framework of their
exhibits with cardboard, paper and painters tape, and the ground in the
exhibit room was covered in scraps of paper and supplies. One team was
soliciting answers to the prompt, whats the most painful thing youve
done for beauty? with Post-It notes. The team with the portrait of Mayor
Cooper had spent the day on the street with the portrait, asking
passersby to share their reactions. They recorded audio they were
planning on using as a way of bringing Cooper into the 21st century
streets of his town.
And the roller coaster ticket group had
stripped things down significantly, hoping to provide a space that,
compared to the rest of the room, would be conspicuously clean and clear
to provide an opportunity for reflection, said Parsons. Rather than
garish red stripes, they opted instead for a simple text headline that
reads, Will You Remember This? Theyll be giving everyone who enters the
exhibit a hand-drawn ticket and the option to either throw it away or
keep it, challenging them to think about experiencesincluding this onein
a new way. Will you keep this as a memento? Is it a memory thing? Is
this valuable to you, and why are we making these decisions? he asks.
Spavento, whose group explored questions about beauty in their exhibit
centering around a historic Miss California scepter, said the overall
experience of Hack the Museum camp was unlike anything shes experienced
in her museum career. Im used to working with people that are like,Other
companies want a piece of that casesforipadmini action
Oh thatll never work, or Thatll never pass code, she says. So its nice
to hear, Wow, Im listening to your idea. And I like it.
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