Main entrance; much of the Museum is in the connected building at the right
|Owner||Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)|
|Public transit access||Central Square MBTA station|
MBTA #1 bus (Harvard - Dudley)
The MIT Museum, founded in 1971, is located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It hosts collections of holography, technology-related artworks, artificial intelligence, robotics, maritime history, and the history of MIT. Its holography collection of 1800 pieces is the largest in the world, though not all of it is exhibited. As of 2019[update], holographic art, and works by the kinetic artist Arthur Ganson are the two largest long-running displays. There is a regular program of temporary special exhibitions, often on the intersections of art and technology.
In addition to serving the MIT community, the museum offers numerous outreach programs to school-age children and adults in the public at large. The widely attended annual Cambridge Science Festival was originated by and continues to be coordinated by the museum.
The museum was founded in 1971 by Warren Seamans, originally as part of an exhibit project of the Office of the President and the Department of Humanities for the inauguration of President Jerome Wiesner. The committee involved was named the "Historical Collections" in December 1971 and served as the predecessor to the museum. Its purpose was to collect and preserve historical artifacts and documents scattered throughout MIT. It was renamed the "MIT Museum" in 1980, and began developing exhibits and educational programs for the MIT community as well as society at large.
Since 2005 the official mission of the MIT Museum has been, "to engage the wider community with MIT’s science, technology and other areas of scholarship in ways that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century."
The museum is directed by MIT Professor John Durant, and operates under MIT's Associate Provost for the Arts, who also oversees the List Visual Arts Center and the MIT Office of the Arts. Durant is also a faculty member of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) in its Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS). He teaches courses on the development of science exhibits and communication between scientists, engineers, and the general public.
The museum was accredited by the organization now called the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in 1984, and reaccredited in 2002 and 2013. The MIT Museum also belongs to the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), Museum Computer Network, New England Museum Association, International Confederation of Architectural Museums, and the International Council of Maritime Museums.
The Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery occupies 5,000 square feet (460 m2) on the ground floor, and showcases recent research at MIT. After dark during the winter season, large holograms from the museum's collection have sometimes been displayed through large windows fronting on Massachusetts Avenue.
Other exhibits have included selections from the museum's large collection of slide rules and nomographs, and research archives and camera prototypes from Edwin H. Land and the Polaroid Corporation. The majority of exhibits have been developed by the museum staff, but touring shows are occasionally exhibited, including a European show about the origins and design of everyday technology, such as the adhesive bandage.
The Kurtz Gallery for Photography on the second floor displays temporary shows of photography related to art, science, and technology, including works connected to MIT and people who have worked or studied there. For example, a photo exhibit of Berenice Abbott's work was on display through 2012, highlighting her scientific visualization work which captured elementary physics principles for science education, including the picture Bouncing ball in diminishing arcs. Many of these photos were incorporated into a landmark high school physics textbook developed by the Physical Science Study Committee, which was headquartered at MIT. The works of scientific photographer Felice Frankel have also been exhibited at the museum.
One of the most popular permanent galleries features approximately a dozen works of kinetic art by Arthur Ganson. In November 2013, the museum opened 5000 Moving Parts, a year-long exhibition of kinetic art, featuring the work of Ganson, Anne Lilly, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, John Douglas Powers, and Takis. The exhibition inaugurated a "year of kinetic art" at the museum, featuring special programming related to the artform.
In 1993, the MIT Museum acquired the complete collection and archives of the Museum of Holography (MOH), formerly on Mercer Street in the SoHo district of Manhattan. The MOH had been dissolved the previous year, and the collection was to be dispersed at auction. At that time an anonymous buyer bought the entire collection and donated it to the MIT Museum, which continues to preserve, expand, and display it for researchers and the general public.
Today, the collection is the largest and most comprehensive collection of holograms in the world, containing many specimens of historic, scientific, and artistic value. Only a small fraction of the collection is viewable by the public at any given time, due to space and funding constraints. The MIT Museum continues to host occasional international symposia on holography every few years. The contents of the collection may be searched via an online accessible database.
For a number of years, the museum housed a Hall of Hacks showcasing some of the famous MIT student pranks, but the section was closed in 2001. This was done to free up gallery space for other exhibits; the artifacts and documentation have been retained for future historical research and exhibition.
A few selected larger relics of past hacks are now on semi-permanent display inside the MIT Stata Center, including a "fire hose" drinking fountain, and full-size replicas of a cow and a police car which had been placed atop the Great Dome (but not at the same time); see the MIT hacks article for details. In the ground floor elevator lobby of the Dreyfoos Tower are located a large time capsule box plus informational panels describing MIT's historic Building 20, which was sited where the Stata Center is now.
In January 2011, the museum reopened its upper galleries, including the Thomas Peterson '57 Gallery, after an extensive renovation. The first exhibit in the renovated space was The MIT 150 Exhibition in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of MIT's founding charter on April 10, 1861. The special exhibit consisted of 150 objects, documents, and other artifacts showing the history of people, places, and ideas related to MIT. A website was set up in tandem, including supplemental information and an online timeline. Video interviews specially created for the exhibition were available for viewing onsite and online.
Inventions: student showcase displays inventions and kinetic art made by MIT students, often as part of coursework such as "STS.035 Exhibiting Science". Some of these projects were built at the MIT Museum Studio, a makerspace for students, while others were created in a variety of courses and laboratories at MIT.
The MIT Museum conducts a number of activities for middle and high school students, including group tours and individual events such as workshops, art studios, contests, and performances. Special week-long programming is scheduled for school vacation weeks in February and April.
In addition, the museum has regular outreach programs for the adult community, including evening discussion panels and guest appearances by MIT researchers, plus invited artists, historians, and scholars from the world at large. Mature, interested children are usually also welcome at these events, which often focus on new developments and controversies in science, technology, art, and public policy.
The museum has run an annual "Friday After Thanksgiving" (F.A.T.) chain reaction, which was emceed by kinetic artists Arthur Ganson and Jeff Lieberman, who also constructed the last contraption in the giant event. Teams of contestants constructed elaborate Rube Goldberg style chain-reaction machines on tables arranged around MIT's gymnasium. Typically, each apparatus would be linked by a string or ramp to its predecessor and successor machine. The initial string was ceremonially pulled, and the ensuing events were videotaped in closeup, and simultaneously projected on large screens for viewing by the live audience. After the entire cascade of events finished, prizes were then awarded in various categories and age levels. Videos from several previous years' contests are viewable on the MIT Museum website.
On November 29, 2019, an event billed as "FINAL!! Friday After Thanksgiving (F.A.T.) Chain Reaction" was held. This was to be the final occurrence of the contest, after more than 20 years of annual restaging. Both Ganson and Lieberman have relocated (separately) outside the Boston area, and nobody has stepped forward to continue organizing the competition.
In 2007, John Durant (then the newly appointed Director of the MIT Museum) initiated the annual Cambridge Science Festival. This was the first event of its type in the United States, and has since inspired similar events in other cities, coordinated via the Science Festival Alliance. Durant had been inspired by a similar festival in England, where he had worked previously. MIT, Harvard University, the City of Cambridge, and the Museum of Science, Boston were the founding sponsors of the event, and continue in their support today.
All Festival events are open to the general public, and are intended for ages ranging from pre-school up through senior citizens. The great majority of events are free, but some limited performances and workshops require a fee. Information and program schedules are available online, and free printed program booklets are distributed throughout the city before each Festival. The Festival is usually scheduled for around 10 days near the end of April.
The MIT Museum is located at the northern edge of the main MIT campus in Cambridge. It is served by the MBTA #1 "Harvard/Holyoke Gate - Dudley Station via Massachusetts Avenue" bus, one of the "key bus routes" with frequent service and extended hours. The museum is a short walk along Massachusetts Avenue southeast of the Central Square restaurant and nightclub district in the center of Cambridge, served by Central station on the MBTA Red Line subway.
The MIT Museum building is readily identified by a large cloth name banner hanging from the front corner of the structure. Visible through large windows near the main entrance are some temporary exhibit and event spaces on the ground floor. The museum store and complimentary lockers for storing personal belongings are located here as well. However, the bulk of the museum is upstairs in an adjacent building, connected by an interior stainless steel stairway. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible.
In October 2016, the museum gained a new neighbor located at 301 Massachusetts Avenue, a short distance north. The MIT Press Bookstore, formerly located next to a subway entrance to Kendall/MIT station, was temporarily relocated to Central Square, because of impending construction at its former location. Once major construction is completed in late 2021, the MIT Museum will accompany the bookstore in moving back to Kendall Square, at sites adjacent to a subway entrance to Kendall/MIT station.
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