Meredith Doby, Exhibits Director at The Children’s Museum/DoSeum, already knew Spare Parts was an excellent collaborating institution. “To give you an example,” she says, “at Christmas time we did a ‘Reverse Santa’s Workshop.'”
…Which, it turns out, is just as delightful as it sounds; kids got to dis-assemble toys collected and donated by Spare Parts, then created entirely new forms from them. For me, this is an ideologically significant scene to imagine, as well as a fun one. Reversing Santa exemplifies what Doby calls the “maker and tinkerer” mindset, for sure, but it also subverts the dictates of commercialism, but without ideological fanfare. It’s one thing to preach at kids that the holidays are more than just acquiring more objects. It’s quite another to encourage kids to reimagine objects. One has to do with attempting to thwart a kid’s desire (which rarely works); the latter, to ignite a kid’s imagination, sharpen their maker techniques, and to address a material problem through experimentation.
I wish I’d been allowed to take stuff apart and make my own stuff, rather than being given a Baby Alive but made to feel guilty about it. For one thing, Baby Alive was a nightmare; a dead-eyed, insatiable mechanized maw, whose only activities were taking in provided packets of gelatinous goo, and ersatz-pooping. Baby Alive allowed for very little imagination, except for the night terrors it induced. I feared it would come to life in the dark and eat my hair. If only I’d been allowed to take the horrible grinding ersatz mastication motor out of Baby Alive and enlivened something else with it. I could have made an EZ-bake garbage disposal. I feel things could have gone differently for me.
I’m being facetious, of course, except that I for-real remember Baby Alive with dread and guilt. Also, it’s still in existence in a landfill somewhere, I’m sure. Worse, I’m still afraid to take things apart; it was just never in my purview, as far as I understood. This has terrible (and possibly gender-aggravated) repercussions; I’m terrified to attempt minor car repairs, I throw things away that could be easily repurposed and made useful, and I buy stuff I neither need nor understand. Writ large… you see where this is going. Or has already gone. We’re all living in the consequences; Spare Parts and the DoSeum are helping to re-route the consumerist directive into a cluster of impulses that involve resource management, engineering, and multidisciplinary arts.
Meanwhile, “Junk Jam,” an exciting multimedia sound installation conceived with artist, teacher and mom Kara Salinas, is the next DoSeum/Spare Parts collaboration.
“The DoSeum wants to bring our mission of using recycled [reusable] materials into our programming,” Doby tells me. “We have a gallery called Sensation Studio that studies the science of light and sound.” Through materials collected and provided by Spare Parts, the DoSeum and Salinas are constructing a mixed-media sounds sculpture that kids can play.
(You can see a video here of the Foundstrument, an experimental playable instrument at the Providence, RI Children’s Museum, (scroll down a bit to find it): http://artolution.org/media/video/)
Perusing Salinas’ Facebook page turns up a call for materials image of intriguing diversity; metal bells, cardboard tubes, toy xylophones and kiddie pianos, wind chimes, milk bottles, and colored wooden blocks. Spare Parts also launched an appeal for reusable materials to be creatively re-purposed. According to the project description, the many objects “would be grouped similarly but have different tones. And of course, it must be able to withstand constant play by children.”
The result should be up and running later this Spring.
This is enthralling. Partially because I’m dying to hear a playable sculpture manipulated by children, who in addition to being disruptive disease vectors and largely unemployed in this country, are natural musicians. Secondly, a kid who is encouraged to use pre-existing and discarded materials, will. And if they continue to be encouraged, they won’t stop there. And they’re less likely to be the kind of adult who buys and tosses, fears and ignores.
Here’s Doby again: “We’re hoping that using these recycled [reusable] materials will make unique and interesting sounds,” she says, then emphasizes, “we’ve also got a strong mission to work with local artists. This inspires kids to be excited about what’s going on around them and for future career paths through new and fun exciting ideas. We are excited to partner with Spare Parts as part of this mission.”
“We think this is pretty amazing because the Children’s Museum is valuing the commitment to provide sustainable and eco-friendly creative experiences to its visitors. And they sought our expertise.”
This is a unique and probably unprecedented type of partnership in the San Antonio arts community. It can/should be replicated.