The words bubble up with the water, float to the edge of the fountain, tarry, and spill out to dance over the floor. Children watch the aphorisms in the pool then jump on the words underfoot.“Something happens when they see the movement of ideas move across their bodies and across the hall. They discuss these ideas,” says Chet Manchester, creative director of the Mary Baker Eddy Library at the Christian Science Plaza in Boston. Like many other museums and educational institutions, the library is using advanced technology to better communicate with the public. The challenge: to keep the latest in computer controlled displays, modeling, and media from overwhelming the intended message, all while staying under budget.
Tremble: your whole life is a rehearsal for the moment you are in now.
- Judith Malina
That’s one of 800 quotes displayed by a network of five computer-controlled projectors, which uses matrices of moving mirrors to send the words swimming about the hall. The centerpiece of the library’s Hall of Ideas, the system was designed by Small Design Firm, a Cambridge, MA consulting firm that specializes in interactive displays. An information technology staff, already in place to support the world headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist and its newspaper the Christian Science Monitor, keeps the exhibit up and running.
But even with a shared support staff, the costs are staggering. The Hall of Ideas, together with renovations to other exhibits including a walk-through globe called the Mapparium, cost more than five million dollars-not counting the buildings. John Carney, principal at Krent/Paffett Associates, the Boston design firm that coordinated the work, says that while a traditional museum exhibit may run $200 to $300 per square foot, the high-tech variety starts at twice that. From there, he says, “the sky is the limit.”
“One of the things museums have started to realize is that they are competing with all the other entertainment options that people have,” says Emily King, who manages the Tomorrow’s Indiana exhibit at the Indiana State Museum. That competition is why the Museum of Indiana spent $1.5 million on the exhibit, which asks museum goers to consider issues that might confront their state in the future. A third of the price tag went to Cortina productions, a film company based in McClean, VA that developed story lines and video; the rest paid to outfit a 32-seat theater with state-of-the-art video feeds and a touch-panel feedback system. The result: presentations on topics such as genetic engineering that pause at selected points to ask audience members what the characters should do-whether, for example, to clone a deceased family dog-and resumes to enact hypothetical consequences of their choice.