March 29, 2007
The Skirball brings critters closer to the people at its new ‘Noah’s Ark’
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Chris Green, an artist and puppeteer in Brooklyn who designed the "kinetic" animals -- those with moving parts as well as puppets that will process through the galleries -- "incorporated elements of the culture where the animals are prevalent," in order to respect the cultural integrity of a people and their customs, Bernstein says.
Green's Asian elephant, for example, has a trunk made of bamboo steamers and legs made of Thai bronze rain drums. The wide-ranging international origins of the animals are also intended to spark dialogue about diversity -- and engender identification -- among Skirball visitors.
While drawing from a pool of varied talent for "Noah's Ark," Maskin also used his own eclectic background, which includes the study of early childhood education, art, and design. His previous work had led him to reject time-worn assumptions about what appeals to children, as well how to involve families.
"Adults have certain projections about what children will or won't like -- that they'll like primary colors, or be afraid of dark, large pictures," Maskin says. But we believe children respond to a wider palette, and have found that shadows and silhouettes intrigue them ... children see them as a puzzle to be solved."
Inspired by this knowledge and by the tradition of Indonesian shadow puppets, Maskin hired the design company Somelab to develop the boldly silhouetted landscape and animal murals seen throughout the exhibition.
Many of the materials are also a departure from the primary-colored, synthetic-looking materials typical of children's spaces. Atmospherically lit and filled with wood, ropes, reused tools, mechanical parts and household items, the ark has a slightly subdued, more natural, almost earthy aura. Earthy, and earth-friendly: most of the wood is FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified, many additional materials are organic and, of course, the re-purposing of everyday items is a conspicuous example of creative recycling.
"For years the only visual rewards in a children's museum were for children; but we wanted to design for all ages and levels," Maskin says.
Many of the tasks are designed to be best performed with others -- and sometimes specifically with a taller "other," thus drawing in adults -- to encourage parents and other family members to team with children. Maskin believes this collaborative problem-solving helps create powerful bonds in families and produce lasting, meaningful memories for children.
The need for collaboration is especially apparent inside the ark. In the first gallery, the animals cautiously huddle with their own kind; in the second, they intermix, engaging "in the business of getting along together and taking care of each other," Bernstein says.
Activities in these spaces include tossing bean-bag "food" into animals' mouths that must be propped open by a second person; climbing up to and repairing nests; filling a small-scale ark with supplies; reading storybooks filled with different flood stories; and disposing of "10 kinds of scat," sure to be a highlight for the 10-and-under set.
The broad selection of activities in these zones, as elsewhere, while designed to promote creative problem-solving and cooperation, also provide opportunities for "all different types and ages of learners," Bernstein says. "Some are more gross-motor oriented, some are into smaller things, and some are more musical."
As visitors exit a second ark zone -- by walking beneath a lion and a lamb nestling together above the doorway -- they emerge into the last interior space, a "rainbow" room. Against the backdrop of a wall-sized mural of blue sky, a projected rainbow repeatedly appears, disappears and reappears. Tables and chairs of various heights and sizes will be filled with ever-changing activities. Community organizations can use this for theme-related projects . For example, on some days visitors will be able to plant seedlings with TreePeople. "We are partnering with organizations that do real things in the community," Bernstein says, "so that you can extend the messages and the actions beyond what we do here."
The flexibility of this room will also mean that on any given day, visitors might find a storyteller, a small-scale performance or perhaps a parade of animal puppets. Just a few steps away is an outdoor amphitheater, which will also be used for workshops, performances and overflow activities. Across from the amphitheater is a garden that will soon be home to a 40-foot- long, mist-emitting rainbow sculpture, along with comfortable areas for families to gather, relax and regroup before they leave to re-enter the "real" world.
But after this allegorical journey, that re-entry might be a challenge -- especially for Herscher, who readily admits to being very connected with his "inner child." With a playful glint in his eye, Herscher confesses: "If I thought I was having a bad day, I would only allow myself enough time to get to the ark, and my day would be transformed. You cannot have a bad day on 'Noah's Ark.'"
1 | 2