The Figment Project – Interview

“FIGMENT catalyzes and celebrates an abundance of creativity and passion, challenging artists and our communities to find new ways to create, share, think, and dream.”

Figment is happening this weekend on Governors Island in NYC, and in cities across the country over the coming months.  This amazing event fuses art and interactive design in unique and surprising ways.  Cloudberry’s principal, Greg Gallimore, sat down with David Koren, the Founder and Executive Director to discuss Figment. Here is a bit of their conversation:

Greg: So, how did it start? Back in 2007?

David: Yes – 2007 was the first Figment on Governor’s Island in New York City. I first went out to Governor’s Island in 2005 … and I was just blown away by the place. It’s an amazing place. And as I started to research it, I learned that there can be no permanent housing there. So the city has 172 newly acquired acres but no one can live there. So how do you develop a part of the New York City where no one can live?

So I immediately thought, the arts have to be a part of developing what this is about.  I started talking to friends who I knew mostly through Burning Man about creating some kind of arts thing out there and developed the idea for the festival.

We told the island we were going to do this one day event and have maybe 200, maybe 500 people turn up. The New York Times got wind of it, and wrote an article in the Friday Weekend Section, which I think was July 6th, 2007, and they called it “Burning Man East”.  We had sixty arts projects installed out there and 5,000 people showed up which freaked out the island managers and they shut the ferries down in the early afternoon and said, “that’s it – no more people can come”. So we turned away 2,000 people. Everybody loved the event … so we started this annual kind of progression on Governor’s Island.

Greg: And what’s the expected turn-out this weekend?

David: It’s been about 25,000 the last three/four years, so it will depend on weather. It’s definitely dependent on weather, but I’d say somewhere in that range.

Greg: For a 2 day event?

David: Yeah, Yeah. It’s 10-15,000 a day.

Greg: Wow.

David: They come out and it’s something like 250 arts projects that are all interactive.

Greg: One of the missions that we find really interesting as it relates to Children’s Museums design is how there is a permission to do things there that you normally wouldn’t do, and that there is no barrier to entry. How were those core principles for you, starting this?

David: Well, that was the experiment, right? Can we take this island that no one knows what to do with, and kind of create a different environment there where things are possible that aren’t possible in Lower Manhattan. And so it’s this journey; you get on the boat and go to this place of possibility and then you get there and it’s like, oh, I can do things here…the rules are different. I can do things here that I couldn’t do over there. And that’s been a part of it from the beginning and I think we really have changed, to a large extent, what the island means to people and what kinds of things can happen there, but there’s a downside to that too, in that there’s kind of a “mob mentality” that takes over.

It will feel like they can touch or interact with anything, and often someone’s work will get destroyed because people are just playing with it too much. Because it’s not like going to a museum where default mode is, “I can’t touch anything.” Default mode is, “I can do anything to it”. So it’s interesting to try to manage that.

Greg: How much of the audience is children and how much of the art and activities is geared towards children?

David: We try to curate work that’s geared for everyone. What you have with interactive work, is that kids are used to playing and adults aren’t. Adults are used to a lot of boundaries, so what you often have is there will be kids will be dragging their parents like, “hey mommy, come play with me on this thing”. So it will be kids and adults playing and not really segregated from one another.

As soon as you engage with something, you’re hooked. As soon as you have that experience of getting in the rose petal pool, or playing with brain pong, you go, “oh my God, this is awesome, because I’m actually engaging with the art. I’m engaging with other people. The artist is there and I’m having a conversation with the artist.” You go deeper and deeper into the experience, and really, what that’s doing is we’re teaching each other to play. In real time, we’re making new human connections that aren’t about an economic transaction. They’re about shared interest. They’re about joy and enjoying the day together. And you kind of get that together and it explodes, and you both leave that interaction and go off and share that experience with other people and engage in the next thing.

Pictures from the Figment Flickr photo gallery
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Journeys of Emergence and Reinvention

During the Association of Children’s Museums conference “ Interactivity 2014”, we had the opportunity to lead a fantastic session that dug into the struggles of building a brand new children’s museum from the ground up. This session began with a short documentary video (that we shot on our iPhones) featuring several of our industry friends, including Tag! Children’s Museum of St. Augustine, Imaginosity Discover Center of Detroit, and Mississippi Children’s Museum. Each in a different stage of development, from pre-emerging to established and growing, the video shared the story of how each museum came to be.

Following the video presentation, Cloudberry Studio hosted a panel discussion, inviting the audience to share their anxieties about starting a museum and ask questions from the panel. From the questions, we learned something important: it doesn’t matter where your museum is located or even how big it is, we all have similar struggles. While society would agree with us that advocating for children is a good thing, we still come up against opposition as we build children’s museums. It takes a very special group of people and a lot of hard work to accomplish this incredible task, but when the doors open to those smiling faces, we are quickly reminded of why we all do what we do.

We hope you will take a few minutes to watch what we’re calling our “draft documentary”. Wherever you are in the journey, we hope it encourages you. We look forward to adding segments to the film and developing new videos that focus on specific topics, so please leave us a comment to let us know what topics may be of interest to you and your team.

Journeys of Emergence and Reinvention from Cloudberry Studio on Vimeo.

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Association of Children's Museums, Children's Museums

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Sound Pod Prototype

Last week at ACM, we shared a prototype of our latest pre-designed experience for toddlers. The concept of TodPods, exhibits designed specifically for a museum’s youngest learners, has been in development for a while. As we visited children’s museums around the country, we noticed a trend – toddler areas were often an afterthought. Usually relegated to an unused corner and sometimes non-existent, toddler exhibits needed a serious makeover!

Our response to this concern is TodPods – experiences designed specifically for toddlers that will engage their senses as they explore a safe and fun environment. This year, we shared a prototype of our Sound and Motion pod at ACM MarketPlace. This pod features fully interactive sound rings that respond to a child’s touch with music and lights, allowing children to collaborate with each other and their caregivers to create their very own symphony.

As we created unique sound packs for this experience, we met some amazing artists who were thrilled to be a part of this project. In 2014, we look forward to installing several of these units growing our library of sound packs as we meet new artists!

Here is a rendering of the largest size Sound & Motion TodPod:

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Capturing the Journey

This week Cloudberry Studio is in Phoenix, Arizona, participating in the annual Association of Children’s Museums conference. We have only been here a few hours, and we know it’s going to be an incredible week! This year we will not only participate in the MarketPlace, but will will also be leading a session. This session, “Journeys of Emergence and Reinvention” discusses three emerging museums and follows one through a year of development.

When we set out to produce this rough documentary a year ago, we had no idea what the journey would look like. As a design firm, we are often brought into a project after the museum has gained ground in the community, a building site, and financial support. We rarely get to see how these museum get there. As advocates for children’s museums, we felt it was not just important – it was our duty to go into the trenches with an emerging museum and share their story.

We will present this video tomorrow, sharing the victories and challenges we have witnessed following our friends at Imaginosity Discovery Center. We hope that it not only inspires our audience, full of other emerging museums just like Imaginosity, but reminds them of why we do what we do. If you are here at ACM this week, we hope you will join us! If not, we look forward to sharing the outcome with you very soon.

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