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Makerspaces in Museums

A makerspace in a museum enables visitors to engage in activites related to a collection, enhancing their interaction with the exhibits and potentially attracting new visitors. In this article, we’ll find out how a makerspace can be set up in a museum through two case studies.
A sign advertises 'maker pods'
© The University of Sheffield

A makerspace in a museum enables visitors to engage in activites related to a collection, enhancing their interaction with the exhibits and potentially attracting new visitors. In this article, we’ll find out how a makerspace can be set up in a museum through two case studies.

Museums Embrace Makerspace

Museums were among the first institutions to embrace the makerspace movement, particularly science-focused museums.

The National Science Foundation in the USA has funded a number of maker initiatives in museums, including the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the New York Hall of Science.

Makerspaces are now appearing in a wide variety of museums, including those with an arts and humanities focus.

In this article, we’ll hear from Laura Travis Education Officer at Museums Sheffield and Kate Noble, Education Officer at The Fitzwilliam Museum, about how they set up makerspaces in their museums.

Case study 1: Laura Travis, Museums Sheffield

The MakEY team helped us to set up a makerspace for young children based on our exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing’.

As part of this exhibition, we had commissioned a video installation called ‘The Vehicle of Nature’ by digital studio ‘Universal Everything’, inspired by da Vinci’s drawings of the turbulent flow of water around an obstruction.

The MakEY team set up a makerspace which enabled children to interact with this installation, alongside a range of activities that related to playing with light and colour.

A gallery space with makerspace stations set up The gallery set up for the makerspace

This makerspace offered children a wonderful example of the inter-relationship between art and science that was a feature of the work of Leonardo da Vinci himself.

We were delighted with the way children and families could engage in playful activities related to this collection.

Children interacting with a makerspace in a gallery

Case Study 2: Kate Noble, University of Cambridge Museums

I attended a MakEY workshop in the summer of 2017 and was inspired to try out maker events across our museums. Alongside digital engagement specialist Ina Pruegel, we developed a Digital Maker Residency project, appointing Katy Marshall, an artist, maker and educator from Cambridge, as the maker in residence.

We wanted to explore ways in which we might integrate digital making into the museum experience. We were particularly interested in how digital technologies might come together with the traditional creative processes represented within our collections.

We hoped that the project would inspire staff, teachers, parents and young people to become digital makers, empowering them with the skills, confidence and motivation to make, design and use digital technologies.

We programmed several different types of event:

  • At the Museum of Zoology, animals in the collection were the inspiration for 3D paper models which were brought alive with the addition of sound and movement using Micro:Bit.
  • At the Museum of Classical Archaeology, LEDs were used to embellish greetings cards.
  • The Fitzwilliam Museum piloted a Digital Making session for primary schools in partnership with a local makerspace challenging children to design their own, ‘Museum of the Future’.
  • We also ran a series of more playful pop-up maker activities in the exhibition spaces at The Fitzwilliam Museum and Museum of Zoology which were designed to encourage general visitors and museum staff to have a go at Digital Making.

All these activities involved traditional art making and skills but a digital element extended the scope of the activities.

A craft table Credit: Kate Noble, University Cambridge Museums

Makerspace Workshops

Over the course of the residency, 195 children took part in digital making workshops and there were 67 staff engagements with our bitesize and training programme. We also had over 100 adults and families through the pop-up maker activities.

The project enabled UCM staff to develop their skills and confidence in using digital technology to make things with young children.

It also provided an opportunity to experiment with a more iterative approach to digital learning and to consider the role of museums in supporting the development of children’s creativity as the makers of the future.

What do you think?
How else can museums become involved in maker activities?
© The University of Sheffield
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