MIT Reports to the President 1996-97


The MIT Museum celebrated its 25th year in 1996 with a dinner in October for staff and friends as part of the Council for the Arts' annual meeting. During this event the establishment of the Warren A. Seamans Exhibitions Fund, to honor the Museum's recently retired founding director, was announced. A number of donors have made generous gifts to this endowed fund to support new exhibitions, which are such an important part of the Museum's work.

With funding from the Institute, the Museum was able to undertake a major project to expand and improve its collections storage space in the basement and second floor of N52. This space is now equipped with appropriate storage furniture and enhanced systems to monitor security and the environment. Another key development in FY97 was the increased activity of the Museum's Advisory Board. Two committees of the Board, the Collections Committee and the Public Programs & Outreach Committee, have been established to advise the Museum on the honing of its collections and programs to reflect the Museum's mission and best serve its constituency.

Intensified public relations efforts in FY97 resulted in widespread news coverage of the Museum which helped to increase visibility. Featured in stories on radio, television and in local and national magazines, the MIT Museum was also showcased in a lengthy article in The Boston Globe. The article dramatically boosted attendance for several weeks following its publication. In other efforts to broaden its audience, the Museum strengthened its affiliation with area arts and educational organizations such as ArtsBoston and the Massachusetts Teachers' Association and contracted with a brochure-distribution agency to disseminate its brochure at all local hotels and visitors' centers. To gauge its contribution to its audience, the Museum fine-tuned its visitors' survey and compiled an extensive report of the findings. A questionnaire was also sent to all staff members of the Institute and the results tabulated. The outcome of both surveys indicated an appreciation for many of the Museum's present exhibitions and programs and a demand for increased science and technology offerings.


The Historical Collections continued to receive heavy use by the News Office, Alumni Association and various MIT offices and departments as well as outside researchers and institutions. Our collections of instruments, biographical material, photographs, films and tapes and MIT memorabilia grew through gifts from 27 donors.

Collections staff completed work begun in FY96 on producing a comprehensive Collections Management Manual. The Manual, which contains policies governing management of the Museum's permanent collections and newly developed procedures for implementing these policies, will significantly assist staff in effectively managing the Museum's extensive collections.

The MIT Museum Collections Committee was formed as an adjunct committee to the Museum's Advisory Board to work directly with collections staff to oversee development of the Museum's permanent collections through the review of proposed acquisitions to and deaccessions from the collections and the recommendation of appropriate actions to the Director. The Committee held an orientation meeting in May and will hold quarterly meetings beginning in August.

A major renovation project of selected collections storage areas began in November with the consolidation of Museum storage space in building N51/52. One storage room was renovated and new shelving added so that the Museum could relocate its approximately 10,000-piece science and technology artifact collection. Significant improvements were made to the storage environment to help preserve these important artifacts of MIT's history. In addition, space was renovated and conditions improved for storage of the Museum's Holography Collections.

Online visitors to the Museum's Web site increased to an average of 390 per week. In October, the Museum debuted its latest virtual exhibit, LightForest: The Holographic Rainforest, the online companion to an installation at the Main Exhibition Center. In January, Silicon Graphics chose the online exhibit From Louis Sullivan to SOM as its "Cool Site of the Week."

The Architectural Collections of the MIT Museum rank among the top architectural drawings collections in the country and the world. Use of the Collections has increased dramatically over the past few years in terms of requests from researchers and use in exhibits, both at MIT and beyond. It is anticipated that this growth will continue over the next five years. In addition to answering requests for information and working with the Collections, the curator has continued to collaborate with other Institute departments on special projects such as developing exhibitions for the School of Architecture and Planning's Wolk Gallery and the Alumni Association. Planning and fundraising is also underway for a major Piranesi exhibition that will open at the Museum in December 1997. Funding for the position of curator has been extended through FY98, allowing for continuous coverage of the Collections.

The four-year Haffenreffer-Herreshoff Project was completed in the fall of 1996. As a result of this work, the MIT Museum recently published the 217-page Guide to the Haffenreffer-Herreshoff Collection: The Design Records of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, Bristol, Rhode Island USA, available for purchase at the MIT Museum Shop, Mystic Seaport Museum, Herreshoff Marine Museum and through WoodenBoat magazine's catalog.

Several initiatives were launched early in 1997 thanks to generous gifts. The Davis-Hand Project was fully funded by Michael McMenemy and Richard M. Davis '51 and is expected to be completed in Fall 1997. This project is similar to the work completed on the Haffenreffer-Herreshoff Project and involves plans cataloging and database and preservation microfilming. (The curator has developed a similar proposal for the George Owen (1894) Collection and is currently seeking funding for this project.) The Harmon Foundation, Inc. contributed funds for the purchase of an engineering copier. A Xerox model 2515 was acquired and now provides much greater flexibility in filling print requests. American Classic Voyages Co. funded cataloging and a database for 1,300 negatives relating to the SS Independence and SS Constitution in the Bethlehem Steel Collection. This donor is the parent company of American Hawaii Cruises which operates the SS Independence as a cruise ship in Hawaii and also owns the SS Constitution.

Two new exhibitions from the Hart Nautical Collections were mounted at the MIT Museum with funding from John Lednicky '44: Maps from the Age of Atlases and Selections from the Hart Nautical Collections. The curator has been in discussion with the Department of Ocean Engineering about renewing the exhibits in the Hart Nautical Gallery (Building 5) and the Department has committed funds and a UROP student to develop a permanent Ocean Engineering exhibit to open in the Hart Nautical Gallery in December 1998. Rather than replace the exhibit every several years, the plan will be to upgrade segments of the Ocean Engineering exhibit when new research or projects are available for interpretation.

The Museum's collaboration with artist Betsy Connors culminated in the opening of LightForest, a permanent, large-scale installation that combines traditional landscape art and holography. This work was commissioned with principal funding from the AT&T Foundation's New Experiments in Art and Technology initiative. The Museum is now at work with guest curator Rene Barilleaux on a new holography exhibition, Unfolding Light: The Evolution of Ten Holographers, that will open at the Museum on September 20, 1997 and continue through February 22, 1998, and then travel to seven museums throughout the United States.


The Museum's education program seeks to strengthen ties between MIT and the local community by inviting school and special interest groups to the Museum. Our goal is to demystify the scientific enterprise and make connections between art, science and technology. We are especially interested in helping our young visitors discover that they can become involved in the scientific enterprise at many levels, including professionally. The Museum has several unique resources that allow us to achieve this goal, including a world-class holography collection and a working holography lab. During the 1996-97 school year, the Museum drew on these resources to offer K-12 students and their teachers several age-specific activities, including demonstrations of how a hologram is made and activities related to the physics and chemistry of holography. Twenty-three schools and youth organizations participated in the education program and the education coordinator worked with 321 students in small groups so that each one could have a turn in the lab, receive individualized attention and make a hologram. This approach ensured that the students learned about all aspects of holography and it also resulted in their making a total of 44 holograms, which is a very high success rate. News of this unique program has spread, in part through our publicizing it in the Massachusetts Teachers Association bulletin and other sources, but also through word of mouth and we expect it to remain in great demand.

The Museum enhanced outreach efforts in order to increase visibility and strengthen relationships with its constituencies. We hosted several lectures and gallery talks over the year, many in conjunction with exhibitions, including Arthur Ganson's popular series of noon-time talks about his work in Gestural Engineering. One of the most successful programs of the year was "Larry Gonick Week." In cooperation with several MIT departments, the Museum brought the internationally renowned cartoonist to the Institute for a one-week class on communicating difficult scientific subjects with cartoons. In addition to teaching a general course on "cartooning science," Gonick addressed several classes and taught a middle-school day camp affiliated with the Center for Materials Science and Engineering. Gonick also delivered a campus-wide lecture.


LightForest: The Holographic Rainforest opened October 19, 1996 as a permanent installation and is artist Betsy Connors' holographic interpretation of a rainforest.

Gestural Engineering: The Sculpture of Arthur Ganson opened on January 10, 1997 and is ongoing. Ganson's kinetic sculptures exude the wit of their creator, who is an Artist in Residence at MIT and a self-described cross between a mechanical engineer and a choreographer.

What's So Funny About Science? The Cartoons of Sidney Harris, January 10 - May 31, 1997, presented a hilarious look at unexpected and incongruous moments in science by the well-known New Yorker cartoonist.

Maps from the Age of Atlases, August 5, 1996 - May 4, 1997, featured rare maps from the Hart Nautical Collections that illuminate the golden age of cartography.

Selections from the Hart Nautical Collections opened on June 10 and will run until November 2, 1997.

On the Surface of Things: Images in Science & Engineering, February 14 - June 27, 1997, featured stunning photographs by MIT Artist in Residence Felice Frankel that communicate recent research in a variety of disciplines at MIT and other institutions. This popular exhibition will move to the Museum and be on view from July 15 - November 2.


The MIT Museum Shop had its most profitable year since FY91 due to a 20% increase in sales at the Museum location and more efficient catalog production. However, our most important achievement was publishing Is This The Way To Baker House? -- A Compendium of MIT Hacking Lore, the long-awaited sequel to The Journal of the Institute for Hacks, TomFoolery and Pranks at MIT. The book contains essays, anecdotes and interviews with members of the faculty, administration and staff as well as current and former students.

More information about the MIT Museum can be found on the World Wide Web at the following URL:

Diego Garcia, Kurt Hasselbalch, Mary Leen, Kara Schneiderman, Kimberly Shilland, Kathy Thurston-Lighty, Michael Yeates

MIT Reports to the President 1996-97