Proper Culture

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I am a twenty-something in New York on a mission: to visit every museum within city limits.

Use this as a resource for New York museums and worldwide museum news (and I'll occasionally toss in some history into the mix)!
~ Thursday, May 3 ~

Museum aims to help popular science fully evolve in the Philippines

Mind Movers

'Mind Movers' show nature in scale

By Dean Irvine | CNN | April 26, 2012

Maria Isabel Garcia doesn’t get as many angry reactions to her work as she used to. For over ten years she has been one of the Philippines only science writers in a national newspaper, and during that time received her fair share of disparaging comments from readers in the devoutly Catholic country.

Yet as the curator of The Mind Museum, the Philippines first modern, purpose-built science museum, her work now is a lot more palpable and potentially contentious than her newspaper column.

"So far I’ve had a few individuals with their own personal opinions on why we’re not showing God at the same time we’re showing the atom or beginning of the universe," she said.

"We explain that would be illogical in a science museum and they kind of concede and understand. Or at least I think they do."

After five years of planning, the 8,000 square meter purpose-built museum opened last month in an upscale, redeveloped area of Manila that would not look out of place in Singapore or San Francisco.

Divided into five interlinked galleries, from “The Atom” all the way to “The Universe” and everything in between (described by Garcia as “nature in scale”), the aim is to make science more accessible and inspiring to a new generation.

Around 60% of children in the Philippines enroll in high school, but just 1% of those in their final year receive qualifications in math and physics, according to a 2008 report from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

"It’s not secret, the Filipino public largely perceive science as very cold and should be left in labs, but science is too important to leave to scientists alone," said Garcia.

"In terms of concepts I made sure they are very fundamental. If we show nano-tech right away without telling the public that everything is made up of atoms they won’t really get it."

Garcia’s concepts were turned into 250 exhibits made by local artists in consultation with scientists. The fusion of art and science came with its own unique dynamic.

"I always told the artists making the exhibits ‘You have to be correct first before you can be beautiful.’"

One artist wanted to move Hydrogen to the other side of the Periodic Table because he thought it looked lonely, while the hominids were made through email correspondence with a paleoanthropologist in France; the world’s three recognized makers of cavemen were too expensive to bring in.

The result is a lively, interactive museum with touches of Garcia’s humor. Regularly displayed around the museum’s open-plan two-floor interior are signs reminding visitors to read the signs: “Reading is what makes humans unique. Please help us prove this every day.”

Stuffy-sounding museum guides have been rebranded as “Mind Movers” (“the coolest geeks in town,” says Garcia) whose job is to explain exhibits like the hominids and answer questions from the public.

"What surprised me was the surprise of the public that evolution makes sense," said Garcia.

"When our Mind Movers tell visitors about evolution they do understand and will say, ‘That’s it?’ It is a big challenge, but it’s not that our people are so unaccepting." 

Raising money for a shiny new science museum in a country where over 30% of the population lives below the poverty line was another challenge. With no government funding, the not-for-profit operation enlisted the support of foundations and backing from businesses to raise the 1 billion pesos ($23.5 million) for the cost of the project.

"We were so new to fund-raising and that we didn’t really realize we were asking for such huge amounts," said Manny Blas, the Mind Museum’s director.

Together Blas and Garcia make up the odd couple of popular science — “I make the money, she spends it,” quips the laconic Blas — and while Garcia has devoted her life to science, Blas is as well-versed in the gospels as he is corporate life. He holds a masters degree in theology and was the Southeast Asia president of U.S. food corporation Sara Lee for Southeast Asia until 2000.

Compared to Garcia, he takes a more charitable view of the teaching of science in the Philippines but realizes more needs to be done to inspire the next Philippine Faraday.

"(Philippine students) don’t score that well in sciences, we are one of the lowest internationally, and while we don’t think the science museum will help solve that problem we think it’s a step in the right direction.

"We do want to make an impact and show that science isn’t something that should threaten you but should excite you and hopefully inspire Filipinos to take up science, engineering, technology and be an inventor in the future."

Tags: Mind Museum Phillipines science technology math Southeast Asia museums universe atom physics nature hydrogen Periodic Table of Elements hominids evolution
~ Saturday, April 28 ~

Smithsonian museum explores the art of gaming

“My first exposure to video games was back in the 1970s with Pong, the original Pong,” said Melissinos, who is 42.

Pong was essentially a screen version of table tennis, with a dot bouncing back and forth off sliding bars controlled by players. Everything about the game was basic, but it was one of the first video games kids played at home.

“It was amazing and exciting, and we didn’t really know what it all meant,” he said.

What it meant for Melissinos was a fascination that he turned into a career as chief gaming officer for technology company Sun Microsystems.

His love of and work with video games have led him to put together an exhibit about them at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“The Art of Video Games” takes visitors through the 40 years of video games. It includes interviews with early game creators and a funny video showing people’s expressions while playing video games. It showcases 80 games from a variety of platforms, including Nintendo, Xbox and PlayStation, and explains what was new or unusual about the games when they first appeared. And it offers visitors a chance to play five games, from a 1981 version of Pac-Man to 2009’s Flower, with screens projected onto gallery walls. Visitors may have to wait their turn, but that gives them a chance to cheer on other gamers.

Visitors also might pause to consider a question that has gotten the exhibition a lot of attention. Are video games art?

For Melissinos, there’s no question. “Video games are literally the collision of technology and art,” he said.

Kids visiting the museum recently may not have thought of video games as art before seeing the exhibition, but they were open to the idea.

“It’s a different genre of art,” said Gabriel Quinn, 11. “It’s interactive.”

Gabriel, who lives in Cooper City, Florida, was visiting the museum during spring break. He had just put down the controls to Flower, in which the player becomes the wind and glides over fields and hills that burst with color as petals are collected. He said that game and his favorites at home — the action-adventure Call of Duty and Super Mario Bros. — can all be considered art.

Regan Monigan, 10, of Dayton, Ohio, said the visual and creative elements made games fun. “I like the ones where you get the exciting plot twist . . . and where you can see things from different perspectives,” she said.

Regan’s cousin Sean Healy, 9, of Potomac said he liked the realistic artwork of today’s games but was interested in trying the exhibition’s older games, such as Pac-Man.

“Even if some video games are old, they can be fun,” Sean said.

Melissinos said his own kids discovered the same thing after seeing the exhibition.

“They came back and said, ‘I want to play these older games you haven’t shown us,’ ” he said.

Melissinos hopes kids and parents will use the games at the museum as a way to connect with one another.

“People remember why the games were so important in their lives. They rediscover. Now they understand why [the games] are important to their kids.”

Tags: Smithsonian American Art Museum Smithsonian American Art Museum Art of Video Games video games art technology museums Sun Microsystems Pong Pac-Man washington dc Call of Duty Super Mario Bros
~ Wednesday, April 18 ~

Louvre, Nintendo join forces

Paris museum offers new electronic guides that offer touch-screen options and visual features

By Jamey Keaten | Associated Press | Sunday, April 15, 2012

The new audio guide for the Louvre museum is available in seven languages and comes with a headset. It costs $6.50 on top of the museum's standard admission. (Associated Press)

The new audio guide for the Louvre museum is available in seven languages and comes with a headset. It costs $6.50 on top of the museum’s standard admission. (Associated Press)

PARIS — The Louvre Museum is used to dealing with antiquities: Nearly all of its thousands of works of art date to 1848 or earlier. Now, it wants to create a relic of its own - the old museum audio guide.

The famed Paris museum, whose origins date to the 18th century, is pressing on toward modernity and going visual with new electronic guides in a deal with Japan’s Nintendo. The guide provides 3DS game consoles that offer touch-screen, visual-and-audio guidance for visitors who crowd the museum’s labyrinthine halls by the millions each year.

Billed as an unprecedented innovation at a museum, the game consoles launched this week offer 700 recordings on famed works like the “Venus de Milo,” “Winged Victory of Samothrace” and the “Mona Lisa” - only a tiny sliver of the 35,000-odd works displayed in the museum.

The electronic guides, both navigational and informative, offer virtual glimpses of the artistic touches that are tough for the naked eye to see, like tiny details on towering tableaux on the museum’s wood-paneled walls. They’ll use much of the same information in the Louvre’s now-shelved audio guides.

Pairing France’s highest-of-high-brow museums with a Japanese technology company behind games like Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers and Zelda might not seem like a natural fit. And some may view the electronic guide as a shop window for Nintendo. But Louvre officials say the museum must change with the times, and try to access as wide a public as possible.

Over the years, the Louvre has drawn controversy with some of its innovations, including the glass-pyramid entrance by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei or its sharing parts of its massive collection with wealthy countries like the United Arab Emirates - which is to open a Louvre affiliate in 2015.

Above all, the console is meant to reach out to the Louvre’s customer base: the museum welcomed 8.9 million visitors last year - more than half of them under age 30, and about two-thirds foreign.

The guides, for now available in seven languages, cost $6.50 on top of the museum’s $13 standard admission price. And coming soon: French sign language.

Press a button, and the viewer virtually floats over, say, statues by Michelangelo, or zooms up close on the tiny cracks in the face of the Mona Lisa - all but impossible to see from behind a crowded rope line.

The console comes in handy peering high up at Veronese’s 645-square-foot painting “The Wedding at Cana,” across from the Mona Lisa. Details of the giant tableau easily seen on screen can be checked against the real thing.

The biggest benefit may be helping art lovers get around: Visitors see their location, which blinks inside a diagram of exhibit rooms on one of the console’s two screens. A menu allows for a specific search for one of 50 of the museum’s most popular works and can plot a path to get there. Another feature is a “masterpieces” walk.

Because of the Louvre’s thick walls, and because some of its exhibit spaces are underground, 3G mobile phone networks don’t reach everywhere inside. The positioning system relies on beacons posted around the museum.

Nintendo’s director-general for France, Stephan Bole, insisted the console isn’t aimed as a substitute for a live, in-person visit: Virtual isn’t the same thing as seeing the works themselves.

“The 3DS is to assist a visit that remains live - you have to see the paintings to appreciate them,” he said by phone. “We want to complement the real live visit.”

Many visitors were spotted wandering around with the new 3DS guides Thursday afternoon. But some, asked about how they liked them, complained of a steep learning curve.

“The classic, usual audio guide works better. I would have to search for the information that’s on this, instead of just pressing the number” next to a work of art, said Naoyuki Tomizawa, a 41-year-old IT manager from Tokyo.

Then a Louvre staffer showed how the console can do that, too.

“Oh, I didn’t notice that,” the visitor replied. “I haven’t played around with it enough. The navigation part’s good, when you get lost and don’t know where you are.”

Meera Bickley, a 45-year-old yoga teacher from Byron Bay, Australia, said she arrived too late in the day - shortly before closing - and could have used more time to figure out the console.

“Once I figured out how to use it, it was definitely helpful. The imagery was great, the maps … but actually finding my way in and being able to use it, was quite complex,” she said. “I was born in the wrong decade!”

Indeed, her 14-year-old daughter, Matilda Dods, said it was easy.

“I figured it out immediately. It gives you instructions on the screen. It says: Press ‘A’ to get this and press ‘B’ to get this - it’s easy to figure out,” said Matilda. “Mom is challenged.”

Tags: Louvre Nintendo Museums Technology Audio guide Paris France