I am honored to be the newest member of the Education Team at the Children’s Museum and Theatre. I grew up playing and attending theatre productions here, so it’s inspiring to join the amazing group of people who make this organization truly magical.
I first became interested in museum education when I volunteered at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine during college. I realized how much children learn from the interactive exhibits and programs at the museum; it was particularly exciting to see the thousands and thousands of children who play, learn, and explore at the museum and theatre each year. I was ‘hooked’ after my summer of face-painting, story reading, and camera obscura operating.
My newfound interest in museum engagement inspired me to focus on museum studies and education classes throughout the rest of college, visit over eighty museums during my study abroad experiences in France and England, and volunteer at several art education programs for children and youth.
Most recently, I worked in a one room co-op schoolhouse and a small children’s museum, both in rural Northeast Tennessee. Teaching in a one room schoolhouse was an amazing chance to collaborate with a small number of individuals to create learning opportunities for my students and to experience our educational system in a different part of the country. Working at a children’s museum in rural Tennessee showed me that play-based, youth-centered organizations can create positive change in a community and that children are hungry to learn and explore the world around them.
When I’m not playing at the Children’s Museum and Theatre, I am usually busy organizing an art and social justice camp in Transylvania, Romania or helping to promote our new crowdfunding website that supports community development projects in Transylvanian villages. You may also find me planning farm camps for some of Maine’s youngest farmers, riding and competing my horse, or playing my violin.
Next time you and your family are at the museum and theatre, come say hello. I’m excited to meet you!
Give the gift of play to a family in need this holiday season! Gifts of any amount will be added to our scholarship membership fund which provides free, one-year memberships to families that would not otherwise be able to experience the Museum & Theatre. All donations are tax-deductible. Donations of any amount are welcome and $95 funds an entire scholarship membership for one family for one year!
Make your gift in honor of a friend or family member and share the gift of play with someone special this holiday season. We are happy to send a personalized holiday card to the recipient if you would like.
How It Works:
If you’re visiting the museum, simply remove an ornament from our giving tree and take it to the front desk to make your tax deductible donation. Then take the ornament with you and share it with a friend or family member to let them know that a donation has been made in their name! We can also mail an ornament to a recipient of your choice accompanied by a complimentary holiday card (see the Front Desk for details).
If you’d like to make a donation now, simply click here and choose the option that works best for you!
Thank You and Happy Holidays,
The Team of the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine
“Oh, is my tongue blue?” Here’s what our Theatre Artistic Director and director of our production of The Witches has to say about the play… Want to see more? Get your tickets to The Witcheshere and for our own special interactive adaptation of the story for preschool ages, How to Spot a Witch,here!
From the Artistic Director, Reba Short:
Why would a theatre company produce The Witches anyway? The themes are dark, the images are gruesome; for goodness’ sake, there’s a chorus of witches talking about crunching children’s bones! The Grandmother in the story seems alright, but she’s smoking black cigars! How could this possibly be a children’s play? Has the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine lost all its good sense?!
As Theatre Artistic Director, I say not in the least! We are producing the work of Roald Dahl, hailed as one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century. He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1983, and Children’s Author of the Year from the British Book Awards in 1990. The themes in Dahl’s books are so dark, they’re funny. The witches are so terrible, they’re loveable. The plots are so preposterous, they can’t be serious, and they aren’t, at all. That’s Dahl’s magic as a storyteller. He pushes the boundaries of his make-believe world to its furthest corners, and then keeps pushing. His imagination goes to dark and wild places, and he invites the young reader with him and counts on them to know what is fantasy. Today we are asking the same of you, our audience. Join us for this wild and awful annual convention of witches and know that it’s just pretend.
My favorite part of Roald Dahl’s books are his heroes. Always unlikely, they may seem weak at first. They are usually children who use courage and cleverness to become strong. In our play, it’s a small-boy-turned-mouse that receives the call to adventure. (It would be impossible to find a smaller hero!) If the witchy plot wasn’t so awful, it wouldn’t be necessary for the boy-mouse to save the children at all. This is a story that begs the audience not to take it too seriously, but to find inspiration in the acts of courage and magical ways that the even small heroes can save the world.
The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine annual report for fiscal year 2015 is here. Thank you to all of our donors, business members, sponsors, members, volunteers, and visitors for making this one of our best years yet!
Click here to download a pdf copy from our website.
The technology behind the Camera Obscura – the reflection of light into a dark space, creating a projected image – is more than 1,000 years old. How do you make that feel new in 2013 for kids who are accustomed to high-tech screens that fit in their pockets? That was the challenge the we faced when creating Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura, a reinvented exhibit on the Museum’s third floor.
The year is 1020.
There are about 300 million people on earth. The city of Portland, Maine won’t be established for another seven centuries. Recent innovations include locks (allowing the creation of canals) and fire arrows. The Middle East is in a golden age of scientific achievement, with scientists making notable progress in the fields of medicine, astronomy and physics. The scientist Alhazen (also known as Ibn al-Haytham) has made an important discovery about how people see.
Until 1000 A.D., people believed that eyes sent out rays of light, and those rays formed a picture. They believed that the picture disappeared when eyes were closed because eyelids blocked the light from shooting out. After many experiments with light, Alhazen correctly theorized that eyes work the other way around, receiving light to create an image. His work offered the first clear description and early analysis of the device that came to be known as a camera obscura (latin for dark chamber): a box with a small hole
into which reflected light rays pass to create an image of what is outside. He used the camera obscura throughout his lifelong study of optics; his work corrected several antiquated theories and predated many Western optics discoveries by hundreds of years.
The camera obscura played a vital role in art and photography for centuries to come. During the Renaissance, the camera obscura helped artists understand the concept of perspective, taking painting from the flat compositions of the Middle Ages to the more lifelike, three-dimensional images we see after the 1400s. In the 16th and 17th centuries, using portable, tented camera obscuras for sketching became popular for both artists and hobbyists.
Starting in the 1700s, many scientists were working simultaneously to find a way to make the images projected by the camera obscura permanent. Their experiments with light project and silver salts, iodide and nitrate led to photography as we know it. Louis Daguerre’s “Daguerrotypes” are perhaps the most well-known form of early photography although amateur scientist William Talbot’s obscure “Talbotypes” were perhaps a more direct precursor to modern film photography.
Throughout history, the camera obscura has played an important role as artists and scientists sought to record and understand the world around us.
The year is 1994.
About 5.6 billion people live on earth, and about 1.25 million of them live in the state of Maine. Less than 20% of the US population has a cell phone; only 14% of Americans report that they use the internet. In Portland, the Sea Dogs are playing their very first season, and the Pirates are about to play their second. The Children’s Museum of Maine has been at its Free Street location for one year, with exhibits on the first floor (the second floor is mostly undeveloped) attracting more than 120,000 visitors. This year, the Museum is opening a brand new exhibit: the Camera Obscura.
Frederic L. Thompson – chair of the capital campaign that raised of $2.5 million for the Museum’s new location – secured a donation from Kodak to build a periscopic camera obscura on the Museum’s third floor, taking advantage of the cupola that tops the historic building. While a simple camera obscura can be created with a box and a pin, Thompson had a vision for a more complex device that would provide a more memorable visual experience. Though our camera obscura still uses natural light alone to create the image, a 12 inch lens inside the cupola helps project a more focused image, and a 20 inch mirror rotates mechanically, offering a 360-degree view.
Depending on light and weather conditions, visitors can observe everything from a flock of seagulls flying over Congress Square to the top of Mount Washington, nearly 100 miles away. A camera obscura of this scope and quality is rare – similar examples can be found in San Francisco, Edinburgh and a handful of other cities – and the exhibit drew the appreciation of Camera Obscura enthusiasts, art historians, photographers and travel writers (the exhibit has been featured in AAA Magazine and the Boston Globe).
The room just outside the camera obscura (called the Focus Room) offered a few hands-on optics exercises and a wealth of historic context for the camera obscura, from Alhazen to the light shows of the early 20th century. However, because of the delicate equipment that moves the rotating mirror, the exhibit’s central component was available only by guided tour, which generally took place twice daily. While popular with older children and parents, some families with younger children – due to short attention spans or challenges of navigating up to the third floor – visited the Museum for years without taking advantage of the hidden gem at the top of the stairs.
The year is 2013.
There are over 7 billion people on earth and 1.3 million call Maine home. 91% of US adults now have cell phones (as do 78% of kids over 12). More than half of those are smartphones, meaning most Americans have internet access in their pockets (85% use the internet in some form). In Portland, locals are enjoying the city’s trendy status thanks to the many accolades it’s received in recent years, from being named America’s Foodiest Small Town to having one of the 12 best children’s museums in the US. The Children’s Museum of Maine is now the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, and it’s celebrating two decades at its Free Street location – as well as a new chapter in the story of one of its most distinctive exhibits.
Knowing that the Camera Obscura was one of the Museum & Theatre’s most versatile exhibits, staff has long been motivated to bring more people to the third floor to see it. By the fall of 2012, the exhibits and education staff had developed some ideas for renovations that could excite younger visitors and inspire the Museum & Theatre’s core audience to learn more about optics and light. The staff again approached Fred Thompson, this time via the Rines/Thompson Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, with a proposal. In early 2013, the Fund funded the Museum & Theatre’s proposal to renovate the exhibits, expanding upon the existing educational content, adding and updating interactive components and getting more visitors – especially young visitors – in the door. The goal: make a 1,000-year-old technology appealing to children growing up in the digital age.
The key to attracting young visitors: accessibility. Logistically, that meant modifying the actual Camera Obscura itself; previously open only during guided tours, the Camera Obscura is now open throughout the day; Museum visitors can get a
peek at Portland from a room with no windows any time they like. To preserve the exhibit and ensure that it will be here for years to come, the rotation controls are locked except during guided tours (still given daily). The projection is far from static, though – the cityscape is constantly alive with activity along Congress Street and beyond. Depending on light and where the lens is directed, visitors can observe everything from a flock of seagulls flying over Congress Square to the top of Mount Washington, nearly 100 miles away.
Accessibility is a psychological and developmental challenge as well, so the two-room exhibit is now filled with bright, new, kid-friendly components. The component that inspires the most dancing, wiggling and giggling is the shadow wall: a bright white wall in a dark room with adjustable colored lights where children can play with their shadow and layer the light to create new colors. The exhibit also features a light table surrounded by low stools attracts toddlers eager to stack blocks with sheer color inserts to play with projection. New model camerae obscurae throughout the exhibit invite visitors to experiment with focus and find the parallels between the inner workings of the eye and the camera.
During the development process, each component was prototyped and observed
in action. Although prototypes may appear rough around the edges, they provide important insights into how an exhibit will appeal to children at different developmental stages and whether it will work at all. Some experiments were taken out of the plan when staff observed that they did not hold children’s interest or inspire them to make connections; other new elements were inspired by offhand remarks or unexpected responses to prototypes during the observation period. Chris Sullivan, the Museum & Theatre’s Director of Exhibits, worked with staff to develop a series of prototype exhibit components; staff observed visitors interacting with the prototypes and used those observations to inform the final exhibit – although Sullivan is hesitant to use the word “final.”
“Our exhibits are always growing and evolving,” Chris says. “Visitors are learning from the exhibits, but we learn from our visitors, too.” The prototyping spiral – a series of exercises in design, testing, analysis and redesign – is an increasingly popular in the museum field, particularly children’s museums and science centers, which thrive on durable, hands-on exhibits that inspire open-ended learning.
At the opening celebration on October 16, the revitalized exhibit seemed to have
met its goal, mesmerizing toddlers and preschoolers (along with a few big kids
visiting from out of town) who darted happily between the shadow wall, the light
table and the camera obscura itself. Those seeking a more historical perspective – typically parents – picked up copies of the new background take-home brochure that details the history of the camera obscura phenomenon.
We will continue to offer guided tours of the Camera Obscura; tours offer a more in-depth history of the phenomenon and include a demonstration of the periscopic Camera Obscura’s rotating view of Portland and beyond. Tours are free with general museum admission and are also available separately for $4 per person. Call 207-828-1234 x231 or visit our calendar of events for scheduled tours.
For more images of the new exhibit Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura, visit www.kitetails.org.
A new exhibit is opening in Our Town this spring, but plans have been underway for more than a year. Get the inside scoop on how an idea becomes an exhibit from Chris Sullivan, our Director of Exhibits and Operations.
Fairchild Semiconductor dedicates its philanthropic efforts to early childhood science education for many reasons, one of them very practical: they need engineers! They are eager to hire Maine engineers, which means they need Maine kids to get excited about math and science early so they’ll pursue higher education and careers in the field of engineering. They have supported the Museum & Theatre’s science programming for years. In November 2010, we began discussions with their philanthropy committee regarding a new exhibit: a hands-on engineering exhibit that would reach children outside of the classroom, placing engineering in the context of imaginative play.
Phase One: Engineering Crash Course
Before we could find a way to introduce engineering concepts to children, we had to understand them ourselves. When our work began, we had no idea what semiconductors are, how integrated circuits work or why there are eight bits in a byte. A committee of Fairchild staff members – volunteers from departments across the company – was assembled to help us. With their guidance, we toured of Fairchild’s testing, development and fabrication facilities, engaged in hands-on experimentation, saw how silicone is grown, and learned about the chemical and physical processes that transform it into a chip. We learned that even one task requires the work of many different types of engineers. For example, if Fairchild is creating a chip that allows high definition movies to play from a cell phone without increasing the phone’s size, someone will need to design a new chemical process to create the smaller chip, and someone else will coordinate where the new machines will be placed for smooth production. Then, even after the chip is made, other engineers will continue to test and experiment with it to see what other uses it might have. Soon we had a new appreciation for the cutting edge work these individuals are doing and how many different types of thinkers are required to do it effectively: electrical engineers, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, machine operators and technicians.
Our own understanding of engineering grew quickly, but our ultimate goal still seemed daunting: how could we make this comprehensible and interesting for children? The answer came from the engineers themselves. When asked what had interested them as children, they had all loved solving problems. Whether they were solving equations or dismantling the family television set, they’d been curious about how things worked. Now, as engineers (whether they use a computer or a wrench), they apply that natural curiosity and creativity, along with math and science skills, to discover and define how things work.
We had found our starting point, the essence of engineering itself: problem-solving. When presented as an opportunity to experiment, rather than a science test, engineering naturally appeals to children’s creativity.
Phase Two: Causing Problems
Sparking children’s curiosity is a natural fit for our work, so we were excited to get started. The challenge: today’s technology is so pervasive and integral to daily life that children may be less likely to question or investigate it than they were in decades past. More sophisticated technology also presents fewer opportunities for experimentation. (How would you go about taking apart an iPod, or a DVD player mounted in the back of a car seat?)
We were determined to create opportunities for experimentation – to give children problems to solve. To make these problems inviting and integrate them into Our Town (itself a well-used, curiosity-inspiring area), we created Sandy Fairchild, Child Inventer. Her laboratory, which will be installed in the former vet clinic space, will feature several hands-on experiments designed to assist Sandy’s Our Town neighbors with practical problems. Children will apply science, math, spatial reasoning and technology skills to devise creative, open-ended solutions. Our collaboration with Fairchild gives us a team of engineers who are ready to help us implement the technological aspects of the exhibit.
We’re now in the midst of designing interactive components to fill the space. We start with intensive prototyping work. These prototypes are low-tech and designed to gauge children’s response to the component’s concept. Have you ever been to Museum and seen a staff member inside a cardboard box, acting like a computer? Were there others nearby, jotting down notes? You helped us develop an exhibit! Observing your child at play helps us determine our next steps. Prototyping involves a lot of research, brainstorming, false starts, critical dialogue and plenty of trial and error. These prototypes are rough, but they help us anticipate and resolve some technical kinks and discover the concepts and challenges that keep young visitors engaged.
Phase Three: Nuts & Bolts & Beyond
As our prototyping phase draws to a close, we enter the fabrication stage when we create and install the pieces that will become Sandy’s laboratory. Informed by our prototype observations, we’ll finalize our design plans, keeping in mind factors like visual appeal, safety and durability. We determine which pieces can be fabricated by our own staff and work with external designers and fabricators for some of our more complex components. For Sandy’s experiments, we’ll be working closely with engineers at Fairchild to ensure that the technology we use is safe and will stand up to heavy use from visitors of all ages. We also spend this time researching and writing text for the exhibit signs that will enhance the visitor experience. Soon, Sandy’s lab will be open for hands-on exploration of robotics, communications technology, circuitry and more.
The exhibit is expected to open in late spring of 2012, nearly 18 months after our process began. (Stay subscribed to our email list for the opening announcement.) Sandy is an active inventor, so we’ll continue to work with Fairchild to develop and introduce new experiments periodically. We’re excited to offer our visitors a new way to play and explore, and we’re even more excited to think about the bigger implications of Sandy’s arrival. How many bright engineering minds will this exhibit inspire? What technologies will they invent? How will those inventions change the world? How big an impact can one small exhibit have? We can’t wait to find out!
Questions? Feedback? Contact Chris Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the second journal entry from our young Olympic reporters, Courtney and Lauren:
February 14: Valentine’s Day & Chinese New Year
Today is the Year of the Tiger and we went to Chinatown to celebrate it. Before going there we went to see the Olympic cauldron which had been lit on Friday night. We walked through Gastown and saw the Steam Clock which whistles and shoots steam. We walked to Chinatown and when we got there a parade of dragons was happening. They weren’t real though, just a lot of people in a costume. We saw the Tiger and got our picture taken with him because it is the Year of the Tiger. We saw a lot of interesting things in Chinatown. The streetlights were Chinese Lanterns. There was a very pretty Chinese garden and we explored it. In one of the buildings we got our faces painted like a tiger and even hearts too for Valentines Day. We got balloon animals made to look like Tigers and we saw many people dressed in pretty silk dresses.
Later in the day we went to Stanley Park and looked at the Olympic rings which are in the water. They are lit up at night but it wasn’t dark enough to see that yet. We saw the totem poles which were kind of cool and nearby a statue of a runner had torchbearer mittens tied onto it’s hands…that was kind of funny.
Going to Chinatown was my favorite part of the day. It had a very cool gate entrance and the garden was very neat. It was very exciting to celebrate Chinese New Year in Chinatown. I really liked it.
Today we went to the Vancouver Aquarium. We saw sharks, a big sea turtle and lots of other marine animals. There was a dolphin show and a beluga whale show. I learned that dolphins skin feels like a hard boiled egg and that beluga skin feels more squishy than a dolphin’s skin. I asked the trainers what they eat and they told me that dolphins eat fish and belugas eat whatever they can get their mouths on. There was a rainforest room with tropical birds and butterflies and there were turtles and a lizard. There was a frog area and a kids zone. There was a whole area of fish that live in the Pacific Ocean. There was also a tropical area. We even saw a 4D movie Planet Earth. It was kind of scary because it felt real and it even sprayed us and touched us so we really felt like we were in the Ocean. The people who worked there were really nice to us. They answered all our questions and did a really great job making sure we understood the animals. We had a really good time there.
We played in the playground at Stanley Park and then we went to see the Inukshuk that is the symbol of the Olympics. Inukshuk is actually pronounced Inuksuk….the h is silent. They told us that at the aquarium. It was very big and it is right next to the Pacific Ocean. I wonder how the Native Americans who built it were able to stack the rocks that high. Another thing I wonder is how they stay together without falling over. It was super tall.
My favorite part of today was when I got to see the beluga whales because I thought that the trainers did a really good job getting the whales to listen to what they said and the babies were really cute.
Lauren liked the dolphin show best because it was very exciting to see them leap and mom said she liked the dolphins best because kids could take a lesson from them about cleaning up their toys. They picked up all their toys and brought them to their trainer.
Auction 2010 is right around the corner! Join us on March 26th at the Holiday Inn by the Bay for a fun-filled night of fundraising! While perusing the fabulous getaways, restaurants, artwork (and much more) up for bid, be sure to check out the Kids table for something special to bring home. Check out this sneak peek of exciting and affordable items for kids:
A 20” Trek bike for boys. Donated by: Cyclemania
8 tickets to Curious George Live! at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 11am. Seats are in section K, row 4.
2009 Girl of the Year doll, Chrissa Maxwell, and her accompanying paperback book, Chrissa. Donated by: American Girl
Playmobil horse farm and accessories. Donated by: Rainbow Toys
Several months ago, an artist named David K. Ross approached me to ask about connecting the Camera Obscura on our third floor – the optical device that projects a 360-degree view of Portland into aroom with no windows – to the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Mr. Ross had been invited to take part in a new exhibition at the ICA called “Exchange,” which would feature artists exploring the theme of collaboration. We agreed to let Mr. Ross (and a team from MECA’s technical support department) come in and install a video recorder in our Camera Obscura. The result: “Alhazen’s Problem,” a 24-hour live image projected in a gallery at MECA, several blocks east of us on Congress Street. The view our visitors see during a camera show is projected simultaneously onto a gallery wall in the ICA!
I see budding artists every day at the Museum & Theatre, so I wanted to ask David K. Ross a few questions about how he became an artist. He’ll be answering more questions during his artist talk on Thursday, February 18th at Maine College of Art’s Osher Hall. The talk is free – click here for more information about Exchange!
Chris Sullivan (Director of Exhibits and Operations): What is your favorite color?
David K. Ross (artist): I have never really had one favorite color in particular, but if push came to shove, I would go with the kind of blue you find on the inside of lots of old churches in Florence, Italy.
CS: At what age did you first get interested in art?
DKR: I have a scrapbook album that my grandmother gave me when I was five year old which is filled with school projects from Kindergarten to Grade 8. On every page there is a place to write the answer to the following question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Starting at Grade One, I always wrote “Artist.”
Who needs flowers and candy? To celebrate Valentine’s Day, I joined Jamie and Victoria (one of our terrific volunteers) for Big Messy Art: Valentine’s Day Cards.
Our young visitors were clearly inspired by the holiday, producing sparkling, beribboned, heart-shaped masterpieces! I didn’t want to be nosy, but I had to ask – who would be on the receiving end of these heartfelt Valentine’s Day cards? Most popular answer: Mom and Dad! Check out our facebook page for more pictures!