They’re ALIVE! Bringing the living into Museums
By Kim Vandenbroucke
Recently I’ve noticed that the face of museums are changing. It’s no longer just about the artifacts housed inside a museum, but the stories they can help tell. Sometimes museums need a little help from the outside, bringing in people to be an interactive prop or almost an “artifact for a day.” Whether this is to play an almost forgotten instrument, pretending to be a historic figure or to share their story as it pertains to an exhibit; these people expand the story far beyond what hangs on the walls and sits in cases.
This past weekend I was in Washington D.C. to speak at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center, which is a part of the National Museum of American History, as part of their “Innovative Lives” series. This series is intended to widen peoples’ minds as to who inventors are. They’re not just dead, white, males like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin or Albert Einstein but instead there are lots of inventors shaping the world around us TODAY which will become a part of our history TOMORROW. I’m an inventor: an alive, white, female inventor of games (tabletop ones…not the video or computer kind) and toys. I was asked to talk about how my childhood and schooling shaped my career and what my job is like as an inventor.
The “Innovative Lives” series ties into a couple ongoing exhibits they have at the museum. There is “Invention Case: Hot Spot of Invention” in which they talk about what happens when the right mix of creative people or resources come together at one time – like in the case of the Manhattan Project. The other large exhibit is “Invention at Play,” where they share the stories of modern-day inventors like the inventors of the Sailboard and Post-It Notes. This is the exhibit that my story became a real-time artifact for. The exhibit already includes toys and games like Candyland, The Game of Life, Erector Set, and Lincoln Logs – and for one day it also included my story. Previously it has included other people’s stories like Patsy Sherman, the inventor of Scotchguard, and Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar, but on March 5th, 2011 I was on display. Ninety-nine people came to see me speak on Saturday afternoon and ask me questions – any question they wanted! And for one hour they had a real, living inventor that brought to life some of the things they learned about in the two exhibits down the hall.
Don’t get me wrong, I love museums and all of the static items in cases and on the walls – I worked at one in college and it was an AMAZING experience. But after this weekend I see the value in including people in exhibits; it can make the material more interactive and humanizes the stuff that’s separated from the visitor by glass.
Kim Vandenbroucke is owner of The Brainy Chick and manages the game review blog The Game Aisle. With a background in industrial design, Kim is an independent game inventor–check out her smash hit Scattergories Catagories.
Splitting her time between the Toy and Game industry and the world of brainstorming and innovation, Kim has a wide variety of experience and expertise to that can help you achieve your goals in a broad range of projects. Contact her today at TheBrainyChick@gmail.com