In October 2014, the Berkshire Museum will open Spark!Lab, an educational, interactive work space developed at the Smithsonian Institution by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Spark!Lab is a hands-on, creative laboratory that engages children and families in the process of innovation.
The installation and operation of Spark!Lab is supported, in part, by the Feigenbaum Foundation, the Pittsfield Rotary Foundation, and other friends of the Berkshire Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate.
Bill Hines, president of the Board of Trustees, says, “Bringing Spark!Lab to the Berkshire Museum directly aligns with our mission to bring people together for experiences that spark creativity and innovative thinking. Coupled with the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, Spark!Lab will strengthen the Museum’s reputation as a center for creativity and innovation in the Berkshires."
Spark!Lab features ten activities that challenge visitors to solve problems through their own resourcefulness using materials and tools provided in the space. Each activity invites visitors to discover a new way to perform a task, find a solution to a practical problem, or otherwise “think outside the box.” For example, visitors may create soundscapes, develop a new measuring tool, invent a new kind of moving vehicle, make a percussion instrument from recycled materials, or even design spaces to meet architectural challenges such as mobile emergency housing. Visitors of all ages can work together to combine skills and ideas to create inventions with real-world applications.
Spark!Lab will be open for the general public, as well as school groups, and will include an area suitable for ages five years and younger, the audience for the Museum’s growing WeeMuse early childhood education programs. A staff Spark!Lab host will guide users, answer questions, and ensure that visitors have a meaningful experience.
Planned to be on view for two years, the impact of Spark!Lab will extend far beyond its time at the Museum, according to Berkshire Museum’s executive director, Van Shields. “Spark!Lab is a learning lab and while our visitors learn, we do, too. Our team is already well-known for developing hands-on interactive experiences such as those embedded in the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation and our new Butterflies exhibit. Spark!Lab will be an opportunity to work with the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center team to build a new level of expertise in developing experiences for all segments of our audience.”
The Museum’s director of interpretation, Maria Mingalone, and Craig Langlois, education and public program manager, are leading the Spark!Lab project. “We are continuing to make the Museum a place where we invite people to become engaged with one another while they are engaging with the Museum. Spark! Lab is a wonderful new opportunity to build our skill in bringing such programs to our visitors,” says Mingalone.
Based on the success of the original Spark!Lab located in the NMAH from 2008 to 2011, the Smithsonian is developing a national network of Spark!Labs in collaboration with partner institutions. The Berkshire Museum will be one of the first five organizations in the country to host a Spark!Lab.
Spark!Lab will be located in the Museum’s ground floor Berkshire Bank Gallery, in space being designed by Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson of CPTK Architects. Both are Berkshire natives and graduates of the Harvard and Yale schools of architecture, respectively. Their work has a strong focus on educational and cultural projects.
About the Berkshire Museum
Located in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts, at 39 South St., the Berkshire Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $13 adult, $6 child; Museum members and children age 3 and under enjoy free admission. Admission to the Butterfly Pavilion is an additional $2 per person. For more information, visit www.berkshiremuseum.org or call 413.443.7171.
In association with the Smithsonian since 2013, Berkshire Museum is part of a select group of museums, cultural, educational, and arts organizations that share the Smithsonian's resources with the nation.
Established by Zenas Crane in 1903, Berkshire Museum integrates art, history, and natural science in a wide range of programs and exhibitions that inspire educational connections between the disciplines. Butterflies is on view through September 1, 2014. Objectify: A Look into the Permanent Collection is currently on view. Little Cinema is open year-round. Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, Worlds in Miniature, Aquarium, and other exhibits are ongoing.
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