Maker Ecosystem a Balance of Creativity, Connections, and Really Cool Tools
If it looks like a mobile. Acts like a mobile. Moves like a mobile. Then, it must be a mobile. Or, is it more?
It is a mobile; a beautiful example of an Alexander Calder-inspired mobile built from steel, plastic, and some aluminum wire.
However, to call this a just a mobile is to fail to recognize the significance of this work of art temporarily on display at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art before returning home to the Scott Family Amazeum for permanent display. It’s not just a mobile. It’s a physical representation of the Maker Ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas.
“I think this project was probably aided by our trip to visit the Maker Ecosystem in the San Francisco Bay Area,” says Dustin Griffith, Amazeum Lead Exhibits Developer. “Shane Richey [Creative Director of Experimentation and Development at Crystal Bridges] went on the trip with us and he is on the team that brought the project into the Amazeum.” Conversations during the trip to visit maker spaces lead to creative discussions about who had what tools and expertise for bringing creative ideas to life.
“Crystal Bridges reached out to us because we have a laser cutter and wanted some parts cut for a project,” says Erik Smith, Amazeum Director of Exhibits and Facilities. “We thought, ‘we have a similar project in development. Why don’t we work together?’” Teams from both museums began to collaborate on creating an installation that would work in both museums. “We wanted to engage at a deeper level,” says Erik, “so we worked collaboratively to design something that met the needs of both of us. This is an interesting project and a good one for us to collaborate with Crystal Bridges because it has a strong artistic component and a lot of engineering, design, and fabrication.” From the start, this project required integration of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). Core to the Amazeum’s mission is creating experiences, exhibits, and opportunities that provide evidence of STEAM integration.
Creating a Calder-inspired interactive exhibit was a great fit for an internationally acclaimed museum of American art and a nationally recognized interactive museum featuring integrated exhibits in the arts and sciences for families. Complementary skills sets and resources available at both museums allowed for a deeper dive into the process of exhibit design, engineering, and function. “Dustin and Erik asked me to help design an Alexander Calder inspired mobile,” says Suzie Ahlvers, Amazeum Shop Coordinator, “so I went to Crystal Bridges Library and did some research.” Suzie, who holds a fine art degree and created commissioned public art projects, made the original sketches based on her research. Dustin drew the sketches in CAD and the concept turned into a prototype. The prototype turned into a learning experience.
“We had to tweak the initial design quite a bit because we noticed that the cardboard prototype wasn’t very stable,” says Dustin. A great design for an art museum may not be suitable for an interactive museum for children and their families. Additional design and engineering work brought about the need for additional creative and production capacity. Enter Modus Studios, a Fayetteville design/build architecture firm, and their creative talent and tools. With input from Modus, and their computer-controlled plasma cutter, the project soon became the interactive exhibit envisioned in theoriginal sketches.
So, is this just a mobile? Or, is it symbolic of something larger than the sum of its parts: transformative, cumulative, a metaphor for the growing awareness and potential of an interconnected network of creative resources working in concert to support ideation, innovation, and the insertion of a concept into the public consciousness.
“I really believe the work we’re doing to build a robust Maker Ecosystem here is connecting people and places,” says Erik. “That coupled with our Maker in Residence Program is laying a firm foundation for continued growth because people are starting to connect with others who have the skills and equipment necessary to create and innovate. In the process, the quality of life for all Northwest Arkansans is being enhanced.” By bringing in Makers from across the country to become part of the Amazeum team and connecting with creative talent that already exists in Northwest Arkansas, the Amazeum becomes a creative center. In mobile terms, the support structure on which the other elements hang. The creative talent and tools are interchangeable, interconnected and complementary creating a balance between form and function that responds to the environment.
The mobile is an ecosystem – an interdependent collection interacting in its physical environment – and a perfect metaphor for the growing Maker Ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas.