Mindport: Fascination for all ages

by Steven Arbuckle

In our culture, people tend to make a clear division between art and science. After high school, you can choose to attend an art school, pursue a liberal arts education, or dive right into the art world itself. Creating, displaying, and selling one’s expressions is the noblest calling to some people, and a frivolous and unstable lifestyle to others. On the other hand, if a life in science beckons, the choices – chemistry, biology, physics, and on and on – are mind-boggling. Cooking up possibilities and chasing down proof is viewed as the height of human achievement to some, and an incomprehensible, jargon-filled maze of confusion to others.

WP_20150523_012WEBBut take a step back, and take another, more holistic look. Plenty of artists use tools and media with a scientific background, and use technology to make their art and their decisions on a daily basis. And where would science be if it weren’t for the mavericks? The history books are filled with people who dared to dream, or to act on a hunch, only to discover a breakthrough that has changed the way we understand the world around us.

It is at this intersection of aesthetics and analytics that you will find Mindport. It combines all the best parts of a science museum, an art museum, a classroom, and a playground. Housed mostly in two large rooms, exhibits line the walls and cluster in groups in the middle of the floor, inviting visitors to interact in all sorts of ways. Staff member Gloria calls the musical attractions her favorite: a guitar hangs on the wall along with charts showing how to make chords and play songs, an autoharp sits on a table alongside instructions and a songbook, a theremin waits on a shelf, and there is a small, handmade, wooden pipe organ available for experimenting.

Another staff member, Fiona, is partial to “Diaballique”, a game that sits just inside the front window that combines elements of pinball, mazes, and puzzles. It too is handmade from wood, and looks as beautiful sitting still as it is difficult to master once set in motion. Almost all of the exhibits are handmade locally, and seeing how human hands have crafted these objects makes them even more accessible. This deceptive simplicity is all part of Mindport’s ingenious trap: you find yourself standing in front of one of these contraptions, playing around and having a good time for a while before you realize that you are learning something about inertia, fluid dynamics, geometry, meteorology, pneumatics, or engineering.

It seems obvious that this is the perfect place for parents to bring children, and during the week it’s not unusual to see groups of young schoolchildren touring the attractions. But professors from the University also bring their classes in, and groups of adult co-workers visit regularly for out-of-the-office bonding, and to jump start workplace creativity. An in-house education program offers curriculum design, guided study, and tutoring to students from middle school through college.

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The staff members point out that Mindport is a great rainy-day destination, and Fiona went on to suggest it as a “great place for first dates. You can learn and explore, and learn about the other person as well.” And with an admission price of only $2 (yes, you read that right – two bucks!), even if there is no love connection, you haven’t wasted the kind of time, energy, and cash involved with dinner and a movie.

There are dozens of interactive exhibits, and while a few are retired each year, a new one is generally brought in every few months. That, along with an ongoing series of art exhibits, means that there are plenty of reasons to stop in again and again to investigate the intersection of art and science, and break down the walls between fun and learning.

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