Monthly Archives: June 2012
Reforging History: A children’s art park in Vicksburg, Mississippi celebrates the past with distinctly new forms
Recently, I visited the Art Park at Catfish Row in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This new pocket park, a little over an acre in size, lies at the base of the steep bluffs upon which the city is perched. Catfish Row is a historic area that once was part of an extensive wharf in the 1800’s and was one of the centers of trade on the Mississippi River.
The designers of the park used historic elements in clever new ways to interpret the past. When project designers first approached the site they found pieces of famous riverboats that once plied the muddy waters. They uncovered remnants of a huge steamer called the Sprague, one of the world’s great sternwheelers. Known as “the Big Mama of the Mississippi,” she fell victim to a tragic fire in the 1970’s, and for decades lay broken adjacent the site. The designers decided to work this local legend into the fabric of the park. Parts of the original ship, including cleats, vents, and capstans, are included as play or focal features. An abstract interactive ‘Sprague’ steering wheel and play structure is located at the south end of the park. (Landscape Studio)
As visitors approach the park from the downtown area, they are visually struck. All that you can see of the sunken park are the treetops and the colorful park ‘steamboat stacks’. When Catfish Row was at its peak as a port in the 1800’s, early photographs revealed long lines of steamboat stacks emerging from the tree tops. Robert Poore, a landscape architect on the project, recalled that “the idea for the stacks came from wondering what to do with existing light poles. The stacks on steamboats were unique to each boat, so they could be easily identified. The whistles were unique as well.” So the stacks become a visual play for the park and colorfully align with the grid of surrounding streets. They even boast artificial ‘steam’ released from the top of the stacks.
The Art Park at Catfish Row is more of an alloy of past, present, and future; fusing historical elements into new forms. Glimpses of the past are still evident in the catfish medallions that are inset into the concrete walls of the park, or the representative Spanish tile edges of the play fountain. These references become the familiar languages which seem at home to Vicksburg residents and add rich texture to a small public space. — Bob Brzuszek (R. Brzuszek)
If you have been involved in permanent exhibit design, you know how exhausting the process can be. So after working on a fisheries exhibit for nearly 2 years, I naturally stepped aside and allowed other peers to “get in on the fun” on our most recent project.
One month ago our staff held the ribbon cutting for our brand new Bluegrass Prairie exhibit. It highlights the importance of native prairies to one of our agency’s key game species, the Bobwhite Quail. It features a larger than life quail chick, a hawk with a 20 foot wingspan, and a walk-though aviary for several Quail. A month later, the exhibit is still not complete. As a matter a fact, as I type right now, a group of volunteers is helping to put some finishing touches on it. If you have had any experience with exhibit design, you know what I’m talking about. We like to refer to it as “tweaking” or “trouble shooting”.
What have I learned by “watching” from the sideline? For starters, not to simply watch! It’s important to be available and willing to help out in any way you can. Don’t be intrusive to the design team, but remember that it can be rigorous for a group of interpreters to take on a major exhibit. You should make sure that you chip in and help the team at critical points in the process. Secondly, opinions are like…well, I believe you know how that phrase ends, so I won’t go into details there! It’s important to give feed back, but for the sake of Pete, make sure it’s timely feedback. Don’t wait until the project is being installed to say, “Hey, I think it should be done this way”. That can be really annoying to team members. Trust me, that’s what I did to my coworkers. Finally, remember to have fun and relax! You’re blood pressure can spike simply because you have the greatest job in the world, don’t make it worse by adding tons of unwanted stress [Sarcasm mine]. After two years of being complete, our fisheries exhibit still has some glitches. Keep in mind that exhibit design is a long process and that it could take time to see it to completion.
Exhibit design is an incredibly creative process and it can create an enormous sense of satisfaction. When you have the opportunity to do it, make the most of it. If you have to just sit and watch, remember to not just sit on the sideline.
Last Sunday I tuned HBO for the season finale of “Game of Thrones”. For you that are not familiar with the series everything happens in a fantasy medieval age with a story full of Kings, Lords, knights, and queens trying to become “THE” king. After bitting my nails for 70 minutes during the last episode of the season I felt like some story lines came to an end or I had a few answers to most questions but most important… I want MORE Game of Thrones.
Just like the Harry Potter movies or the twilight zaga once you watch the first movie you are doomed to either hate it or visit the movie theater multiple times to see “the end”.
I have been to interpretive programs where they give you a lot of valuable information and make it relevant to me but also left me hanging and wanting even more, I call this the “To be continued…” effect. If you do this effectively at the end of your program not only your audience will be glad you shared a natural or cultural resource with them, they will be wanting more. Your audience will either pick up a book on their way out, look up online more information or even better, signup for your next program.
When I teach basic “Map and compass” class by the end kids and most parents are excited to know how to use a compass and find their bearing. Before I wrap up my program I explain to them that compasses are used in modern days as a low tech option or backup and bring my GPS out. I tell them what a GPS can do and encourage them to signup for my GPS program. Usually at least half of them will at least try to attend the next program.
Try this next time at the end of your program and who knows, maybe you will find your audience coming back just like Harry Potter fans going back to the movies 8 times to watch “the end”.