HU Students Create Exhibit for Children’s Museum

Science of Cities exhibit

Photo by Rick Loffredo/Highlands University

New Mexico Highlands media arts student Roxy Avalos shows Elliot MacCarthy-Jacobs, 3, a panel in The Science of Cities exhibit Avalos and other media arts students designed for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.

Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University media arts students created a hands-on multimedia exhibit, The Science of Cities, for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, with the grand opening May 10.

The high-tech, high-touch exhibit is designed to engage children in fun interactive learning about how cities work, including a cultural focus on Santa Fe’s nine sister cities around the world.

An Albert Einstein quote in large three-dimensional letters on one wall captures the active learning spirit of the exhibit: “Play is the highest form of research.” The quote is displayed on another wall in Spanish, welcoming Spanish speakers to the exhibit. 

The Science of Cities is a collaboration with the Santa Fe Institute, with the media arts students visualizing the research of SFI scientists Clio Andris and Luis Bettencourt. The students are part of Highlands University’s unique Program for Interactive Cultural Technology, a partnership with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

The exhibit encourages children to explore through touching, smelling, listening, looking, reading, creating, building and more.

“I’m very impressed with the professional quality of the media arts students’ work,” said Shannon Martin Roberts, the museum’s new executive director. “They were given a challenge to create new exhibits that would engage a broader audience and they rose to the occasion.

“The students were very creative and utilized many different materials like wood, metal and sand that invite touch and experiential learning. They were also very capable, gracious and flexible in navigating a real-life creative process,” Martin Roberts said.

A key element of the indoor space is a six-panel interactive wall piece titled “What Makes a City?” It guides children through answering questions about what makes a city tick ­– like transportation, communication channels, and people who keep a city alive. The wall piece uses photographs, data visualization, touch-and-feel components, time-lapsed video, and more.

“The large 3-D Lego cube near the “What Makes a City?” wall is clever, and already popular with all ages — encouraging visitors to build their own city,” Martin Roberts said.

A “Thinking Lounge” in the museum’s solarium features large-scale photos and inspirational quotes from worldwide scientists. Nine full-color 6.5-foot-high banners with photos of children from Santa Fe’s sister cities are displayed in the outdoor space. A sand light table with a Zambian storytelling theme invites children to draw their own creations, and more.

The 12 undergraduates and one graduate student were enrolled in media arts professors Megan Jacobs and Andrew Wollner’s Program for Interactive Technology class spring semester.

“I think the students are very fortunate to have such talented and dedicated media arts professors like Megan and Andrew, who also advocated for their students’ design vision,” Martin Roberts said.

Jacobs said: “The goal of The Science of Cities exhibit is to intellectually engage 8 to 12 year olds in learning about the makeup of a city, and how Santa Fe is connected internationally to sister cities. It’s designed to help children understand the complex physical and social aspects that comprise a city, conveying that cities are much more than just buildings and are made up of people and how they interact.”

She added that the exhibit shows children that we are all related, and is designed to foster curiosity about other cultures and inspire lifelong learning.

Liz Gomez designed a component of the outdoor space that features the history and culture of food through garden plots for traditional vegetables grown in Santa Fe, Cuba, China and Japan. The 27-year-old from Las Vegas graduated May 11 with a double major in Spanish and media arts.

“My design focuses on teaching about where the food comes from and how to grow it,” Gomez said. “The signage is in English and Spanish, which is so important. I also created workshops for teaching children how to prepare traditional dishes with the vegetables from the different countries.”

Gomez added: “We’re exposed to so much information on what makes us different. It’s beautiful for children to learn early about how many similarities we share — like the hot chilis used in New Mexico cooking and hot shiso peppers common in Japan – while also embracing cultural differences.”

Students who created theScience of Cities exhibit include Arianna Andreatta, Roxy Avalos, Allie Burnquist, Analicia Casaus, Craig Cassidy, Dré Gallegos, Derek Gold, Liz Gomez, Brandie Lopez, Stephanie Marcus, John Henry Romero, Shanoaleigh Roseby, and Miles Tokonow. Mariano Ulibarri was the media arts graduate teaching assistant for the project and Cabrini Martí­nez, a media arts graduate, was the AmeriCorps intern.

“I’m very proud of the students’ professional work and their unparalleled dedication to this collaborative project,” Jacobs said. “They showed a keen knack for synthesizing complex scientific information and making it accessible for children.”

The Science of Cities exhibit was made possible through funding from the Delle Foundation.