By Aiona Bones on May 31, 2011
The mission of modern science museums is evolving. I hear more and more about the importance of deeply engaging visitors and communities, encouraging innovation, and fostering the development of process skills, skills like noticing, questioning and communicating new ideas. These skills are not unique to the sciences; they are the same skills that are fostered and honed by artists. As Exploratorium founder Frank Oppenheimer states, artists and scientists are both the “official ‘noticers’ of society, they notice things that other people either have never learned to see or have learned to ignore, and communicate those ‘noticings’ to others.” Our incorporation of the arts has made the Exploratorium the rich and engaging place that it is, but what is it exactly that our artists do for us? You won’t see a lot of framed art pieces on the walls, and, let’s be honest, we look a lot more like a typical science museum than a typical art museum. To answer this question I spent some time asking around in the museum and put together this list of ways we engage artists.
We host residencies: The Exploratorium has a long history of inviting artists into our midst, to collaborate on building exhibits and simply to swap ideas. Our artist in residence program has hosted hundreds of artists, and the fresh perspectives they bring have led to some of our most elegant creations.
We display art pieces: Some of our pieces were created purely as art and others blur the line between science and art. Sean Lani’s Icy Bodies and Ward Fleming’s famous pinscreen are two great examples of artist created exhibits. We also have a large collection of artistic films that we use to inspire curiosity and introduce new ways of looking at things.
We invite them to inspire us: Artists give brown bags, make presentations to the public, and hold office hours. Other museum professionals, like scientists and educators, get new ideas from talking with and learning from artists.Casey Reas, for example, will be visiting the Exploratorium in August to inspire and dialogue with us.
We invite the public to make art: Making art is a great way to encounter and explore ideas. We provide opportunities for visitors to do art through special art focused programming and also in our tinkering studio on the floor.
We are artists ourselves: We think of ourselves as makers of things that not only have factual content, but which also inspire and amuse with aesthetic appeal. We hire artists and we all explore our creative sides.