Monday, April 27, 2009

Pecha Kucha at Interactivity

I'm reviving this long-slumbering blog to report on Interactivity 2009 in Philadelphia. Interactivity is the annual conference of the Association of Children's Museums and if Monday night was any example, the whole field is letting its hair down a little bit.

Or that could just the impression anyone would get after spending two hours with Paul Orselli of POW and Peter Exley of Architectureisfun. The actual conference doesn't begin until Tuesday morning, but Peter and Paul got right to playtime by hosting a Pecha Kucha session -- and you don't have to google that one, because I'm going to explain.

Pecha Kucha is sort of part bar scene, part salon -- mix in some karaoke and social networking -- yes, I know that doesn't make much sense, but keep it all in mind as you read this: watch somebody present 20 slides and talk for 20 seconds during each one. That's 400 seconds, and the words don't have to match the slides, but done nicely it wraps up into a tidy epiphany. Sort of philosophy's answer to the haiku, but with a bar break halfway through.

Our hosts brought up some of their favorite people in the children's museum field to share their 20/20, in between exhorting people to have another drink. (I'm just going to use first names - unforgivable really, but maybe someone will clear that up in the comments) Here were some of my favorite moments:

-Aaron and Dana remembered playing, started keeping track of how they play now, took pictures of it, and asked us pay attention to how long we've been playing before we notice we are playing.
-Peter Exley offered up the exquisite mental image of an inflatable felt whale and showed photos of public art that he loves.
-I didn't catch his name but a fascinating guy from New Jersey talked about "Maker Culture" and how we've evolved from the days of making stuff because we needed it to making stuff as a hobby and ultimately into this hacker society of playing with things as we make them and getting them to do what we want them to do - not just in children's museums but everywhere -- so this is really kind of our moment, isn't it?
-Mary Maher (Hand to Hand) made me miss my own kids when she showed an adorable slide of hers in homemade Halloween costumes - and then revealed one of those interesting paradoxes of motherhood, as she told us that for 18 years she has started the day with a few hours of rowing crew (presumably without the children in tow). Ok, so that's my connection, not hers, but that's the point of Pecha Kucha isn't it?
-Mindy Shrago from Young at Art took us through 20 years of slides as her museum and her children got bigger.
-Paul Orselli has been thinking a lot about chairs, and he got hoots and hollers from the crowd when he asked us to give up "the notion that you can foster parent-child interaction by not giving the parent anywhere to sit down." On the other hand, Paul actually showed a photo of a dad asleep in a museum chair. He showed some other seating options too, some of which were interesting enough to keep anyone awake
-Jane Werner (Pittsburgh CM) talked about mentoring artists to make tough art -- tough enough, that is, to withstand life in one of our children's museums (loved the roller coaster for plants). She demonstrated this by wearing her own piece of tough art, a DIY orange fringe straight skirt.
-Brad brought up a long stick, not to hit us, but to tell us how his martial arts practice is like designing exhibits - how you have to stay empty and open, you can't be afraid of having an effect on the world or being affected by it, you can work with a partner to reach beyond yourself (that one got me a little misty thinking of our Kidcity team). Finally he closed with an idea that was just out of my reach, which is that the future is behind us, and it's our job to anticipate the moment it will catch up with us. I'll have to keep thinking about that one - or perhaps not thinking is more to the point.

Overall, Pecha Kucha was a great way to warm up for the conference and get people thinking about ideas, not just budgets, feasibility studies and exhibit assessment! Peter encouraged us to find a Pecha Kucha in our own town -- or failing that, to start one. You can learn more about that at

For next year, I just have one suggestion: they could add a drinking game to improve the take at the bar, and use it as a fundraiser for ACM:

-every time a speaker mentions "the children", take a drink.
-everytime someone shows a slide of a child playing with mud, take a drink
-every time a museum actually lets a child play with mud (just think of the laundry and customer service issues!) that museum gets free drinks on the house
-every time someone mispronounces Pecha Kucha, take a drink (here's a tip: say pe-Chak-a-Cha)
-every time a speaker says the word "play" take two drinks (remember the point here is to make money for ACM!)

It's a good thing that I wasn't in charge of organizing this, or I'd be in no shape for blogging. If my computer holds up, I'll write about the workshop's I go to tomorrow - sorry you can't all be here!

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