Creating an Interactive Museum

Building BlocksBuilding Blocks

Creating a science museum is like playing with building blocks. It takes imagination, perseverance, and innovation to build a monument to experiential learning. The following excerpt is from the first page of Lives of Museum Junkies. Unusual consequences often occur from obscure beginnings and it is a pleasure to share them with you.

Creating an Interactive Museum: Naïve Beginnings

“Stop running and making so much noise!” I shouted to five rambunctious children playing hide-and-seek in closets throughout the house. It was a cold day and my friend Dee Pumplin was visiting with her son. She and I were having a difficult time hearing each other as we chatted animatedly in the kitchen. It was during this conversation that my homemaker days started to end, when over coffee in my suburban house we brewed up the idea of a hands-on museum that emphasized science. Children are not always polite, studious little creatures set on this planet to impress and please their parents.

Children are not always polite, studious little creatures set on this planet to impress and please their parents. Instead they are balls of energy who love to run, scream and create bedlam. In short they can drive a parent crazy, especially on a rainy day. As Dee and I talked, her one and my four children shouted and squealed, ignoring the storm roaring outside. The increasing noise level was like a drum roll announcing a new idea. We started imagining what it would be like to take our kids to an indoor playground. “Wouldn’t it be magnificent to have a great big barn,” we fantasized, “and fill it floor to ceiling with ramps, poles, and climbing apparatus? What fun it would be for the children and their friends. They would get rid of their energy away from home and our houses would be preserved.” Dee and I started to wonder where we could find a barn and even took the next step of contacting a realtor.

As we learned more, the vision for an indoor play structure grew. The immense dimensions of a working barn inspired our ideas to expand to include interactive learning activities inserted into climbing areas. We imagined children swooping down a sliding board and finding a light table, colored filters, and projectors to use for experimentation. The colored light could be projected on the next child speeding down the slide. We embraced the idea of physical play being integrated with academic challenges in a never-ending cycle of learning.

After months of talk and concept development, we finally located a barn, but it wasn’t long before we faced a dose of reality. The cost to acquire the property was more than we anticipated and building the inside play structure seemed monumental. The barn needed to be heated, insulated, electrified, bathroomed and water sprinkled and once it was upgraded, ongoing utilities would be astronomical. The permitting process was overwhelming to two inexperienced women who began to wonder if the city would even allow this type of play-barn to exist. Insurance was bound to be phenomenal, not only because we were dealing with a wooden structure but because we were planning to let children run throughout. We especially liked the idea of fire poles descending from one level to the next. Sound safe? Costs mounted, reaching an enormous number before we even considered the price of exhibits and staffing. . . . .

Lives of Museum Junkies is available through AMAZON, Barnes and Noble, Powells Books, Inkwater Press, and The-M-porium.

For a signed copy you can purchase from me for $ 19.95 plus $ 4 shipping. Contact me at

Artwork is always for sale: Building Blocks is a 24” by 28” acrylic painting on canvas in a gold frame. Cost is $450. Contact me at for further information.


New Release: Former OMSI President Reveals the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly History Behind the Hands-On Education Movement

“…will help you see science museums in a new light.” – David Ucko, Museums+More llc
In this lively, behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of interactive science museums, discover:

How the Brooklyn Museum of Art was saved from closure by Mayor Rudolph Guiliani for showing a painting by Chris

How the Brooklyn Museum of Art was saved from closure by Mayor Rudolph Guiliani for showing a painting by Chris Ofili of the Virgin Mary that contained elephant dong.

Why an autistic child spoke for the first time on a science center visit.

Who kept NOVA from being canceled when congress did not agree with their investigative reporting style that explored sensitive subjects like nuclear energy.

What inspired a poor Appalachian orphan to go from rags to riches to become a museum president who later rented an entire cruise ship to see a global eclipse on the Amazon.

Why executives at the top are subject to sexual abuse and find it nearly impossible to manage.

The outcry caused by the Playboy Bunnies playing basketball with business executives to raise funds for a museum.

“recommended for those who care about museums, libraries and society today.”
– Ginnie Cooper, Directed Washington D.C., Brooklyn, and Portland library systems .



Nourishing Dieversity

1474323m+v=201607111642&m=9999-1Nourishing the Desert

acrylic painting/ 36” by 24”/ $499
A diversity of people composes the fabric of our society. As we look at it from afar we see that the whole creates a beautiful landscape that is more dramatic than the parts. Once the land is nourished the garden can burst into bloom.

The following excerpt is from Lives of Museum Junkies available month end on Amazon. Keep posted for more information. As a museum professional, I was privy to many experiences that influenced how I think about our country’s racial divide. After Martin Luther King’s march, I assumed we had overcome a hurdle and we would live in a more compassionate place. Unfortunately, when I listen to the news today, I realize that lack of understanding between various racial groups continues. Yet, I am reminded of my youth and how a biased childhood made it difficult to understand the implications of a diverse society. I had to change before I could nourish others. The following excerpt is one of many events that made me do so.

Nourishing Diversity

“I got to know of Earvin Johnson’s mother, the school’s cleaning lady, during a time when Earvin became a local hero. She and her husband were supportive of their talented son and encouraged him to better his basketball chances at all white Everette High. The transition was difficult. He encountered a great many racial incidents, as he wrote in his autobiography Life, but eventually realized that they helped him “understand white people, how to communicate and deal with them.”

Earvin was anointed the moniker “Magic” at the age of fifteen when a writer for the local paper recorded a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists. Earvin had so many fans that the high school had to use Michigan State University’s field house for his games. Not giving into pressure to go elsewhere, upon graduation he enrolled locally and we all got to celebrate when MSU’s basketball team won the college championship.
A few years later, while Magic was playing for the Los Angeles Laker I was invited to attend a birthday party his father organized in Lansing. Having lived most of my life in a white environment, the party was a culturally electric experience. I was one of the 10% of attendees who were white and the event made me realize how little I knew about the black community.

Guests were asked to dress in black or white, and once in the ballroom, the fashion show we beheld was spectacular. Johnson’s young female friends were especially dazzling, looking as though they had stepped off of a New York runway while the men, demonstrating their individuality, wore colored spats and bright suspenders under traditional black tuxedos.

At 7 p.m. the doors were locked to late arrivals. I sat down next to a state senator at an all white table when seven L.A. Laker giants, accompanied by tall, stunning females, entered amid flashing lights, and excited shouting fans. Projecting his well-recognized smile, Magic was in his element when speaking, leaving guests to realize that there was much more ambition in him than simply a basketball player. His favorite band had been flown in from L.A. as a birthday gift from his father. While it played, the black crowd moved and applauded to the sounds while those of us who were white sat stoically in our seats wondering, not understanding.

This party was my first total immersion into a culturally unfamiliar environment. Just as Earvin had to learn about white America, I needed to be exposed to and learn about black culture. I observed many interactions during that evening that made me feel uncomfortable, and I began to wonder how difficult it might be for a minority child to visit a museum where most attendees were white. My eyes were just starting to open.”
Many experiences over many years helped me become invested in seeing that all elements of society receive an education and life a rewarding life. Lives of Museum Junkies explores what I and others have done to ensure that the underrepresented population is served. My present work with street youth is an extension of the sensibilities I gained while working in museums.
Art work is always for sale. Contact me at

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StreetwiseFor sale on Amazon by Marilynne Eichinger: The True Story of Streetwise, overcoming homelessness and beating the odds. Go to AMAZON .


The Gossips

The Gossips
12” by 36” / Acrylic Painting / $ 325
Getting community buy-in is often like whispering down the lane. It is a person to person conversation that eventually reaches a tipping point that pushes an idea over the precipice for implementation.

The following excerpt is from Lives of Museum Junkies that is due out at the end of August. Look for information in upcoming blogs. I will be holding several book signings beginning in Tampa, Florida in September; Lansing, Michigan in October; and Portland, Oregon in November. The book is presently at the printers and will be available in a few weeks. I look forward to seeing you at one of these events.

“World events can never be ignored. A milestone that occurred when I was young turned the entire country looking skyward. Sputnik was launched. This was the first time a spaceship was successfully placed in orbit. I remember my mother saying to me that she always prided herself in keeping up with change, but somehow she could not understand what it meant to be putting objects in space. She felt lost and confused about the future.

Many adults today feel like my mother did in the Sputnik era. Technology continuously introduces changes at such a rapid rate that it is not surprising that coping is difficult. We watch many former jobs disappear, and at the same time sophisticated technological positions stay unfilled because of a lack of technical education. Streetwise once told me that he wished he were born one-hundred years ago. He did not like the competition and fast pace of city life, rebelled against using computers, and was fearful of driving on freeways. Thankfully, over the past years he has learned to cope with all of these realities.

This young man’s reaction was similar to that of many of his peers who lacked an understanding of basic subjects, current events, and scientific advancements. Yet these are the men and women who will be voting and making decisions that affect society in the future. The high school dropout rate in the United States is 25 percent, which is a concern since democracy depends on an educated populace.

As a museum director, I remained cognizant of our continually changing society with ever-evolving community issues, and soon realized that the job was filled with push-pull opportunities. I had ideas of what I thought the community needed, but it was not until citizens pushed me to accomplish what I preached that I could succeed. If I had not spearheaded the museum’s growth, it would not have happened, but it was the community that did not let me fail. People grabbed on to ideas and would not let them die. In some respects, I was set up to succeed as long as I was just willing to put in the hours, accept the pain and pitfalls, and not think about anything but the end result. Absolutely no one wanted me to fail. . . .

Lives of Museum Junkies offers insight into how this is done.
You may have a private business with family, investors and bankers committed to your success or you may be involved in a nonprofit organization that depends on community contributions. Perhaps you are working for one or another politician and walking door to door with his or her message. Whatever your passion, it is imperative that you not only communicate but get community buy-in if you want to succeed. This is not always easy. There is an art to organizing people and enabling them to feel a part of your cause.

Do share your experience in how you went about getting community involvement in your project. Respond at
Artwork is always for sale. Contact me at
For sale on Amazon by Marilynne Eichinger: The True Story of Streetwise, overcoming homelessness and beating the odds. Go to AMAZON .

Home as Museum

Coming Home /16” by 19” / acrylic with silver frame / $ 195

Open the door and what do you see? Is home an interesting reflection of you and do others enjoy it? Does it share your personality? Your history? Your curiosity about life?

The following excerpt is from my upcoming book Lives of Museum Junkies that is due out at the end of August. Look for information in upcoming blogs. I will be holding several book signings beginning in Tampa, Florida in September; Lansing, Michigan in October; and Portland, Oregon in November. Information will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. I look forward to seeing you at one of these events.

Home as Museum

“You can easily substitute home for museum and live in an environment made inspiring. Instead of exhibits, consider decorations, furniture and personal treasures. Architecture, use of space, selection and arrangement of furnishings, collections, and the way they are displayed all define you. How you move about your home, share treasures with friends and family, and teach your children to understand their cultural heritage becomes your way of passing on values.

Ray, my life partner, is a maker of totem poles and Northwest Coast masks. Outside of our home, there is a seventeen foot pole that has become a neighborhood marker. “Go to the totem pole and turn left,” is an oft heard direction given by acquaintances. The lower level of our house has both indoor and outdoor shop areas where carving and painting are pursued much to the enjoyment of nosey friends and those hiking an adjacent trail. Strangers who hear the tap, tap, tap of a hammer stop by wanting to know what is going on, and Ray gladly shows them his carvings, entertaining them with stories of Raven and Beaver.

Our home is filled with his carvings, my collections of pottery and masks, canvases that I paint, and art purchased while traveling. Our furnishings are arranged in a restful way, though presented as eye candy for our visitors. I enjoy living surrounded by the items Ray and I have either made or collected. Sharing them with friends lets them into our souls and initiates many conversations about culture, art, and even politics. Our friends often say when entering our home that it looks like a museum, only warmer and more welcoming.

Many children are first introduced to a cultural institution by visiting a children’s museum. These institutions are unique because the ingenuity they apply to educating the young is more than just exciting—it is engaging. Children spend hours engaged in activities such as playing in water (learning physics and hydrodynamics without realizing it), dressing up in period costumes (a study in history), constructing and plumbing buildings (engineering), and a host of other activities that involve physical as well as mental effort. Young visitors often are seen crying as their parents pull them from the building to go home. A secret to their success is that they are centered on the child and organize their spaces in a way that permits freedom of movement. Displays are built to withstand hard use. They encourage learning by using a variety of cleverly hidden techniques.

I encourage parents to think like a professional and start their own museum at home. What better place to inspire your own child than the relaxed environment of a play area or living room? According to The American Association of Children’s Museums, “A children’s museum is defined as an institution committed to serving the needs and interests of children by providing exhibits and programs that stimulate curiosity and motivate learning.” They encourage parents to interact with their children while in the museum in order to make the experience more meaningful.

That definition fit my family to a “T.” When we moved to Lexington, Massachusetts, a community without a hands-on museum, I decided that I could make my own home into one. The Boston Children’s Museum was much too far to travel to on a regular basis. Part of the challenge of my home operation was one of organization. I decided to set up my children’s basement playroom with a Montessori approach.”
Lives of Museum Junkies offers insight into how I went about doing this on a shoestring. I also encourage grandparents to consider their residences as their private museum. The accumulations from a life time of travel and just plain living can be organized and displayed in such a way as to fascinate friends and family alike. Perhaps you have thought similarly and share your treasures in a unique way. Do share on my blog site,
Artwork is always for sale. Contact me at
For sale on Amazon by Marilynne Eichinger: The True Story of Streetwise, overcoming homelessness and beating the odds. Go to AMAZON .