The first morning of my spring semester internship at the National Postal Museum, in January 2010, I was whisked off along with my supervisor to a meeting about a possible pair of digital learning centers to be built at two Smithsonian museums, NPM and the Hirshhorn. The two spaces would be funded by the MacArthur Foundation, the Pearson Foundation, and Nokia. Youths would use the Hirshhorn’s learning center, and the NPM site would be dedicated to educating educators. Both would focus on the potential of digital technology and social media in learning. Staff at NPM and the Hirshhorn were excited about the idea, but in those initial stages, there were still many, many questions to answer and details to work out.
Fast forward two years later, when I saw the result of all the decision-making and hard work that went into this initiative. Along with other area Emerging Museum Professionals (EMPs), I got a tour of the ARTLAB + at the Hirshhorn last night. (EdLab is NPM’s space.) As Amy, one of the lab’s educators, gave us the informal tour, my memory was jogged, and I recalled details I’d read about two years ago: three different levels of engagement with technological offerings (Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out); the variety of hobbies that could make use of digital technology (photography, music, broadcasting, video games, writing, etc.). ARTLAB + is used by teens who come for clubs and workshops in their area of interest, or who just drop in to experiment.
The space is made to be comfortable and fun, with bright colors, cozy furniture, and flexible access to electricity allowing a variety of room arrangements. We were allowed to sample a few activities: video games, songwriting, and photo editing. I made this lovely image using a tablet connected to the computer:
And here are examples of the teens’ much more impressive work.