Kid tested, guest approved

If you’ve visited PEM on a Sunday afternoon, you may have caught sight of me, walking backwards through the Atrium, storybook in hand, trailing a parade of kids on the way to art-making adventures.  Or on an early morning visit, you might have seen me with my colleague Lisa underneath the Arctic Tern Labyrinth, fixing pulleys and wires.  Or possibly you’ve caught just a glimpse of my hair above a big bin of supplies for swapping out the activities for the weekend Art Cart.  As programs coordinator for the Art & Nature Center, my job is possibly one of the most fun roles in the entire museum.

Exciting renovations are underway in PEM’s Art & Nature Center (ANC) and we’re currently located in a temporary home at the Pop-Up ANC next door. In anticipation for our new home, opening in October, we’ve been doing prototype testing for what you’d like to see in the new ANC. Here are some of the things we’ve learned:

1)      Label Testing: Wan-li Jar

We asked visitors what they wanted to know about this Chinese jar and used the answers to help write a new label: SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Lots of people asked about the bats that adorn the jar, their colors and symbolism.  Many others wanted to find out the purpose of the jar. The third group wanted to know when, where and how it was created. My favorite result, however, was the way some people carried out conversations via post-it note!

Commenter 1: Why are the bats different colors?

Commenter 2: Bats? Those are dragons! Why those colors?

Commenter 3: What does the “circle with squares” symbol mean?

Commenter 4: It indicates the Chinese symbol [sketched character], which means happiness.

Our curator, Janey Winchell, took these questions and used them to craft a new label—come by the center and check it out!

2)      Plant Sketching Station: Drawing Air Plants


We want to introduce live plant sketching into the new ANC without worrying about the microbes and other conservation issues that come with pots of dirt in the gallery.  The solution: air plants!  But do visitors find them as cool as we do?  And how do you display something like that, anyway?  This was worth a test!

question area

Here is our prototyping corner, complete with tiny fork-like mounting systems for the air plants. Through a combination of watching people interact with the station, checking out their drawings and reading their comments in the nearby comment book, we’ve come up with some fun results.

-          Are directions clear? Which activities do people choose to do? No one has seemed to have difficulty with the concept, and drawings like the one above show that people are willing to try out the different methods of sketching we suggest, from blind contour drawing to using different perspectives.

-          What are people learning here? According to your comments, everything from “plants are cute!” to “observational skills” –Right on, well done, you!

-          What would make it more fun or interesting? Some suggestions we can’t do because of museum rules, like having non-air plants, at least not without some more testing. But the suggestion to see other people’s drawing, we can definitely work into the new installation.

3)      Light Table Interactives

And now I have a prototyping question for you:

We’re planning (based on earlier prototyping, of course!) to install a light table in the new ANC, and I’d like to know what you would most like to explore on such a table.  Below are five options for activities to try—in the comments below, let us know:

Which would be your top two and why? What aged group do you bring to the ANC (kids under 5, elementary, middle, or high school, or grown ups)? And, if you have an idea not listed here, please feel free to add that as well.

Animal X Rays
animal xrays

 Magnetic Tiles
Pattern Materials
mandala pattern materials

Sand Drawing
sand on light table

Leaves, Agate slices, and other natural materials
leaves on light tableagate slices

Thank you for being part of making the new ANC even more exciting than ever. Mark your calendars for an action-packed opening day celebration of the ANC on Saturday, October 19!


  1. bryanne says:

    i vote fo leaves, rock & mineral slices and other natural materials

  2. Meg says:

    Thanks, Bryanne! I appreciate the input.

  3. Rose says:

    All the items are great materials. Kids would rspecially love using the colored magnetic tiles and sand to make art of their own. I am looking forward to bringing my granddaughters in October.

  4. Meg says:

    Thanks, Rose! I’m guessing the sand might make its first appearance in another round of prototyping, so we can track how much of a mess it makes, but the magnetic tiles are definitely going on my shopping list.

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