National Book Lovers Day

Post written by Alex Ballou, Marketing Assistant. 

National Book Lovers Day

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery interviewed local children’s books illustrator and current FCMoD volunteer, Cathy Morrison, in celebration of National Book Lovers Day! The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to FCMoD?

I met my husband soon after moving to Colorado in the early 80s. Even back then we had a dream of buying land and building some sort of energy efficient cabin. It took another 30 years or so, but eventually we did make that happen. Now we live about thirty miles northwest of Fort Collins in an area called Glacier View Meadows. Our cabin is passive solar and constructed of SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels). I remember driving past the museum as it was under construction, wondering: “What’s that big, weird shaped building?” I did not have much connection with Fort Collins at the time, so I began to read about the museum online. In the past I’d volunteered at my kids’ schools and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver so I was excited to learn that the museum was recruiting volunteers. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time! On the opening day of the museum I helped in the museum gift shop. Since then I’ve been mostly involved with the education team, greeting school groups, being a docent for the school tours in Heritage Courtyard’s “Journey through Time” program and volunteering for Storytime in the Dome.

  1. Who or what inspired you to first become an illustrator?

In college I earned a double major in fine arts and education. After student teaching I knew it wasn’t for me. One day I heard about an opening at K&H Productions, an animation studio in Dallas, Texas and I applied. I was fortunate to walk into the interview with my college art portfolio and walk out with a job! I started out as an in-betweener then moved into traditional cell animation and audio lip syncing for characters. I worked for the studio for about five years. The studio manager suggested I freelance on the side – she knew I wanted to be an independent artist and tell stories. My freelance business began expanding and I ended up quitting that job and moving to Colorado. – I figured if it didn’t work out I could always get another job. The freelance illustration grew into a boutique graphic design and illustration studio, Big Chief Graphics, in Denver. This lasted for about ten years until I had two kids, scaled back the business and began working from home. This is when I discovered picture books and realized this was what I wanted to do next.

  1. Your illustrations are so detailed! What are your favorite elements or scenes to illustrate and why?

I really like animals, nature, and conservationism. When I started to volunteer at FCMoD, a staff member from the museum was chatting with me about her love for Fort Collins’ short grass prairie. This was a real spark for me! This was around the same time I began illustrating nature related children’s books for Arbordale Press and Dawn Publishing. I enjoy gaining inspiration from my natural surroundings.

  1. Roughly how long does it take to illustrate a book? How does the process ebb and flow?

“Roughly” is a good way to describe it! It usually takes about 6-8 months to illustrate a 32 page picture book because I am always working on multiple projects, rarely focusing on just one book. It’s typical to work on 3-5 projects at a time. It’s a feast or famine sort of life and I do wish the process were a bit smoother. When I do have down time I like to write.

The process of illustrating a picture book is not what most people imagine, there is no collaboration between the illustrator and author. The publisher acquires the manuscript from the writer. Next they match up the story with an illustrator who they believe can best bring that book to life. The author does get input throughout the process, but there’s no communication with the illustrator. The publisher is the middleman between the illustrator and author. I have a couple of publishers that I work with a lot. Since they know my style and trust me, they let me do my own process in creating the illustrations. I mainly work on creative non-fiction picture books, these are books that read as a story while being based on facts. I create the thumbnail rough sketches, then place those into in an InDesign layout along with the text so I can be sure to leave enough room for copy. There are multiple editing rounds as the manuscript is being adapted so are the illustrations. I fine tune as the process continues and finally everything comes together.

  1. What are the qualities in yourself that you believe made you a successful illustrator?

I feel like I still have that ability to think like a kid and see things through their eyes. I like a challenge and juggling projects, staying on deadline, being creative and collaborating with editors and art directors long distance can be challenging at times. I try to treat my clients the way I want to be treated and that usually works well. When a kiddo picks up one of my books I hope they enjoy it as well as learn something new. I love how curious and smart these kids are today.

  1. On the flip side – what is the hardest thing to describe about being an illustrator?

Illustrating is a very competitive industry and there are so many amazing illustrators out there. Trends in art styles are always changing so you need to be able to adapt to keep up. It can be tough financially without a steady paycheck. For most book contracts the illustrator gets an advance to illustrate the book, then additional royalties once the book is published. Also, juggling several deadlines with a variety of clients can be stressful. And many publishers expect the book creators to participate in marketing once the book is published. That might involve school visits, presenting at conferences, book store launches, etc. So the process of illustrating a book is a very solitary sort of life style, then you have to put on your public persona and go out in the world and engage, not always an easy transition. Illustrating is as much a “give” as it is a “take” sort of career.

“I enjoy gaining inspiration from my natural surroundings.”

  1. What role would you like to see museums like FCMoD play in helping prepare young people for a career in the arts?

A career in the arts doesn’t limit one to being a traditional artist. Having a background and focus in the arts should help a person to think creatively which really frees a person to do almost anything they choose. I love the museum’s sensory based educational approach to learning, their focus on STEAM, Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics. I love how open the folks at the museum are to experimenting with new ideas. I feel like this passion rubs off on the kids who come to the museum. And the museum engages kids at such a young age to enjoy learning, playing and experimenting. There’s a strong correlation between science and the arts and how they enhance each other. Albert Einstein said “The greatest scientists are artists as well.” Leonardo da Vinci was best known as an artist, but his interests in music, invention, and science are what really made him a renaissance man. This is how I envision the museum. It creates a safe, welcoming environment where young people can make art, music, play, experiment and create their own world.

For example, Storytime in the Dome, is a very interactive format to get kids and their families involved in books and stories. Ben, the Dome Manager recreates the picture books to fit on the huge dome screen, animates page turns, even has added some sound effects. There’s always a live narrator to engage the kids with the book. Then afterwards we head to the Learning Lab to create a related craft. I love how unique and tactile this experience is. When I volunteer I see a lot of the same families coming again and again. If I had a do-over in life I’m reconsider being an illustrator and maybe be an employee at the museum.

  1. You’ve posted such amazing photos on your Instagram, @CathyMorrisonIllustrates, of the views from your studio. How does your studio space impact or enhance your creative process?

Through the years I’ve had a variety of studio spaces. I converted an extra bedroom into a home office, subleased office space from various advertising and marketing agencies in Denver, shared co-working space with other artists, photographers and animators in the Old Colorado Institute of Art Building in the Golden Triangle. So when we built our cabin I had a good idea what I wanted – tall ceilings, good lighting, nothing fancy, a comfortable work space that feels good. And now, my studio is just right. I have a great view of the mountain and plains, which is always changing and inspiring. I like being here every day.

  1. Do you have a favorite artist or piece of art? What is it about it that you like?

I do not have one favorite artist. One thing I love to do locally is go to the RiNo District in Denver and see the murals and street art. I lived near that neighborhood over thirty years ago when it was a very unsafe area. Now most alleyways are a mixture of graffiti and street art and you can safely walk around engulfed in the atmosphere. I love watching the artists creating their murals too. If you take a blank wall and add art to it – it becomes a whole new universe. The RiNo District has lifted the area up and is an attraction for all ages, all backgrounds, all means. Art brings the community together. You can just walk around outside and be amazed and inspired.

  1. If you could give advice to someone interested in illustrating children’s books, what would you say to them?

Keep at it, but do not expect it to be easy. It’s great to do a job that you love, but it is also hard work with long hours. Joining the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org) is worthwhile. They have national and regional conferences, monthly events, plus you’ll connect with publishers, editors, agents and like-minded folks in your field. If you keep at it, you will be successful.

  1. What is your favorite part about volunteering with FCMoD?

My favorite part about volunteering with FCMoD are the people. The staff is great as well as the other volunteers and the folks who visit the museum. It’s a fun, informal environment for learning and volunteering. I always enjoy it and come away energized.

  1. And, lastly, what can we keep an eye out for next from Cathy Morrison Illustrates? Are there any books or projects you are working on that you can share with us?

I have two books coming out next year. One in the spring with Dawn Publishing is called What’s This Tail Saying? This book talks about how animals communicate through their tails. For example, a skunk warns of danger by raising its tail before spraying, whereas a rattle snake makes a rattle sound before attacking. You need to pay attention to those tails! Then in the fall I will have another book coming out with a new publisher – this is a book that a friend and I created and submitted to several agents and editors. Schiffer Publishing in Pennsylvania acquired it. The working title is The Tiny Giant – it is a story of an oak seed becoming a forest.

“Art brings [a] community together.”

Thank you to Cathy for her time and for sharing her stories at Storytime in the Dome!

To find out more about Cathy’s books, and to hear more from a local illustrator, check out her blog at: https://cathymorrison.blogspot.com/. And don’t forget to stop by The Museum Store during your next visit to purchase one of Cathy’s illustrated books!

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Summer Means Fair Season

Post written by Alex Ballou, Marketing Assistant.

Summer Means Fair Season

Whether you’re excited to get your hands on all things peach at the Peach Festival, or rock out to local music at Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest, summer means fair season! In this blog, we’re taking a look back at fairs, parades, and celebrations of summers past. All images are from the Archive & Collections at FCMoD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local history lives here. Visit the Archive & Collections at FCMoD – open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm – and like us on Facebook to see more historical images and artifacts. Archival images are available for research, purchase, and more through the online Fort Collins History Connection website.

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Happy #MoonMonth!

Post written by staff members at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

Happy #MoonMonth!

“Your mission is ours.” This is the mission statement of Colorado company Lockheed Martin. In June, the Archive & Collections received a donation of 2D prints of aerospace technology that Lockheed Martin Denver assisted in building for NASA. Today, we’re sharing information on that donation as well as exploring Colorado’s connection to the Apollo 11 lunar landing, which took place 50 years.

Who is Lockheed Martin?

Lockheed Martin was formed in 1995 after a merger of Lockheed Corp. and Martin Marietta, which both had decades of aerospace experience behind them. (Martin Marietta was formed in 1961 in a merger of Glenn L. Martin Co. and American Marietta Corp.) The companies’ aircraft have set records and achieved milestones in aviation and space exploration. In fact, Lockheed Martin is the largest provider of IT services, systems integration and training to the U.S. Government.

Lockheed Corp.’s projects also included the Hubble Space Telescope, the Apollo launch escape system and the Corona surveillance satellite series. Martin Marietta was known for spacecraft such as the Viking Mars landers and the Magellan Venus spacecraft.

In aerospace, some of Lockheed Martin’s major projects today include the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter plane, the C-130 Hercules military transport, the P3-Orion maritime patrol aircraft, and the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter (with Boeing), according to Encyclopedia Britannica. In space, Lockheed Martin is known for the Titan IV and Atlas launch vehicles and the Trident II submarine-based missile. Lockheed is also part of the joint venture International Launch Services, along with Russian companies Energia and Khrunichev.

The Apollo Project

Project Apollo was announced by NASA in 1960. Many companies were contracted to design and build parts of the Apollo spacecraft, including the Lockheed Propulsion Company. Lockheed Propulsion Company designed and built the solid propellant launch escape motor and the pitch control motor for the Apollo spacecraft. 50 years ago, Apollo 11 touched down on the Moon on July 20, 1969. The space race had been won, yet in many respects had only just begun.

Lockheed Martin’s contribution to the Apollo Project

Years later, on April 12, 1981, the space shuttle Columbia launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its first official mission, beginning an era of manned spaceflight unlike any before or since. Columbia looked more like a sophisticated plane than the bubble-with-legs design of the Apollo moon landers. The space shuttle missions were also quite different. This was no race to the moon—this was to be sustained science and space exploration.

For decades, space shuttles were the symbol of space exploration and innovation, and they were fueled by an iconic burnt-orange external tank that was designed and built by Lockheed Martin.

The structural backbone of every shuttle takeoff, the tanks were the largest component of each shuttle at 154 feet in length—longer than the Statue of Liberty—and were composed of nearly a half-million parts. The external tank that launched Columbia’s first mission in 1981 weighed nearly 76,000 pounds, but by 1998 Lockheed Martin had developed the Super Lightweight Tank, lowering the weight of the external tank to approximately 58,500 pounds. This change in design and the shift to a lighter aluminum-lithium alloy made it possible for shuttles to carry greater payloads, a breakthrough that allowed the shuttle to deliver to orbit the construction modules that became the International Space Station.

Lockheed Martin & NASA Partnership Today

Today Lockheed Martin still partners with NASA. Currently, Lockheed Martin is working on the next generation of commercial supersonic aircraft to reduce a sonic boom. Lockheed Martin has designed X-59 to cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph. On July 2, 2019, NASA will test Orion’s launch abort system. This test will verify the system can steer the crew module and carry astronauts to safety in case of an emergency during launch. Lockheed Martin has been the prime contractor building NASA’s Orion, the only spacecraft designed for long-duration, deep space human exploration.

Lockheed Martin & the Archive & Collections at FCMoD

Members of our Fort Collins Community have contributed to many space exploration projects over the years through their work at Lockheed Martin. One Fort Collins family had multiple generations working there, and the museum was thrilled when they donated models and prints documenting this work. Through this multi-generational family influence the museum is able to display some of aerospace’s greatest achievements in history. We’ll be displaying some of these prints in the Archive, as part of our exhibit commemorating #MoonMonth. The display will feature posters, photos, and more from the history of the lunar landing and will be on view until July 30, 2019. Visitors may view the exhibit during our open hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm-5:00 pm.

3…2…1 BLAST OFF 🚀 It’s #MoonMonth at FCMoD!

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Sharing insight into the Dance Express’ History

Post written by Mary Elizabeth Lenahan, MS, OT Artistic & Executive Director of Dance Express

Sharing insight into the Dance Express’ History

February 25, 2019, Dance Express celebrated its 30th Anniversary in Fort Collins at the Lincoln Center Columbine Room and Magnolia Theatre.  Serving the arts and non-profit communities and joyfully sharing the creativity and dance talents of persons with Down syndrome and/or other developmental disabilities, Dance Express can be proud of its community contributions.

Board member, Colleen DelMonte, chaired the celebration committee and succeeded in creating a fabulous reception for the community.  John Kefalas, newly-elected Larimer County Commissioner; Jim McDonald, Fort Collins Cultural Director; Mark Rosoff, visionary for the establishment of Dance Express; and Lois Douthit, the original president of the Dance Express board of directors, joined other guests to speak and honor the commitment and artistry of dancers, volunteers, board, staff, and community over the years.

Besides fabulous food catered by the Farmhouse at Jessup Farm, photo opportunities from Lori Jackson of Jaxon Pics, and videography by Rowan Media, there were displays on exhibit during the reception.  Thanks to Colleen and a few of her friends, board members, dancers and support personnel, each dancer made a tri-fold board expressing the influence Dance Express has had in each one’s life.  Photos, memorabilia, and answers to questions, such as favorite performances or interesting personal facts, brought to life insights about the dancers. Though the boards could not be displayed in the FCMOD Archive exhibit, they were displayed once more at STUDIO CONCERT ’19 at the Fort Collins Senior Center Prairie Sage Stage in May.

 

 

A special highlight of the 30th Anniversary was the collaborative guest dance performance with Boltz Middle School students at the matinee and evening shows.  Sincere gratitude goes to Boltz principal, Brett Larsen, for supporting the shared vision of teacher Melissa Claeys and artistic director Mary Elizabeth Lenahan for Boltz youth to work with the dance company.

Dancer Tamara, who has been with the company since Dance Express started, visited the company’s historical display at the Archive at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and spent well over an hour exploring the pictures and enjoying the memories being shared.  Though the exhibit is no longer on view, most materials that were on display are still available for perusal and research in the special collections at the Archive.

THANK YOU Fort Collins and ALL beyond our region who have blessed us with their recognition of the value Dance Express provides.

View photos of the 30th Anniversary Reception at: https://www.jaxonpics.com/p792532098

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Looking Back on the First Moon Landing

Post written by Alex Ballou, Marketing Assistant.

Looking Back on the First Moon Landing

July 20, 1969 marked a monumental day in history as millions gathered around their televisions and watched as two American astronauts did the seemingly impossible. These two astronauts experienced something the world had never seen… Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” –  Neil Armstrong

 

Blast from the Past

Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957. The United States followed suite and launched several of their own satellites. It was a space race to have the first humans in space.

In 1961 the first human was launched into space. Russia won the race and Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Less than a month later the U.S. launched Alan Shepard into space. NASA was challenged by President John F. Kennedy to send a human to the Moon.

On July 16, 1969 the spacecraft Apollo 11 prepared for launch into orbit and into history. Only four days later, Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. We went to the Moon!

 

World History, Our History

How did Fort Collins celebrate this incredible moment? In lead up to the lunar landing, check out the Coloradoan’s headline!

Then, on July 20, 1969, this headline from the Denver Post celebrates the epic Moon Landing (even if the headline is less-than-enthusiastic).

Lunar Landing day was celebrated by local banks with a day off from business.

There was also a sale on any ’69 cars in town.

And, deliciously, the local dairy queen celebrated with an aptly titled Moonday special!

 

Looking Forward

Ten astronauts would follow in the footsteps of the Apollo 11 astronauts. While the last manned mission to the moon was in 1972, our understanding of space and exploration of it continued in other ways.

Last year, Fort Collins’ very own Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor launched to the International Space Station. Today, NASA’s research includes studying the effects of human space flight, like in their Twins Study, as well learning more about planets like Mars.

As discoveries continue to be made and space exploration advances, we encourage you to stay curious and to never stop exploring.

Join us at the museum this July as well celebrate #MoonMonth!

 

 

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Happy #PollinatorWeek!🐝

Post written by Alexa Leinaweaver, Live Animal Husbandry Coordinator.

🐝Happy #PollinatorWeek!

What Is Pollination?

Pollination is the process of bringing pollen (male sex cells) from one plant to the flower (female organ) of another plant of the same species. This is how flowering plants reproduce and evolve. When pollen is transferred to a flower, that flower is fertilized and develops seeds and fruit.

Flowering plants have co-evolved (developed along with) their pollinators over millions of years. Plants have several varied ways of attracting their pollinators. Some use visual or scent cues, many offer food, and some can mimic or even trap the animal pollinator. These techniques can be specialized to an individual animal species, or aim to attract a broad range of pollinators.

Less than 20% of flowering plants are able to achieve pollination without an animal to help.

What Is A Pollinator?

Animals that assist plants in reproduction are called pollinators. The most common include ants, bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, small mammals, and wasps. Most pollinators are insects – there are estimated to be 16,000 different species of bees alone, all of which play an important role in pollination of plants around the world.

Why Is Pollination Important?

Plants are vitally important to human survival. All plants use up carbon dioxide, which animals (including humans) exhale, and produce oxygen, which we breathe. Flowering plants help purify water. Plants also prevent erosion, decreasing damage from events like floods or avalanches, and they improve the quality of the soil. The water cycle also depends on plants to release water into the atmosphere.

Pollination allows plants to survive. Most plants require a pollinator to reproduce themselves and maintain genetic diversity. Pollinated plants also develop fruits which provide food to a wide variety of species, including humans.

Nearly all fruits and vegetables that you eat have to be pollinated by animals before they develop into something we can eat. Visits to our agricultural fields from pollinators results in both more flavorful food and higher crop yields. In the U.S., the value of pollination done by animals is estimated to be $10 billion each year. Globally, that value comes to more than $3 trillion! Without pollinators and the task they do, humans would have a lot of trouble surviving.

Learn More:

NPS: Pollinators

US Fish & Wildlife: Celebrate National Pollinator Week

USDA: Our Future Flies on the Wings of Pollinators

Smithsonian: How to Protect Your Local Pollinators in Ten Easy Ways

 

Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus)

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Photos courtesy of Alexa Leinaweaver

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The Museum of Tomorrow, Today

Post written by Laurel Baltic, Grants Coordinator.

The Museum of Tomorrow, Today

At FCMoD, it’s not hard for us to imagine what the future looks like. Every day, hundreds of people stream through our front doors. They tinker with hands-on exhibits, spark new connections in a Museum Takeover program about germs or trees, or dream big (and Big Bang) during a Space Explorers summer camp.

Inquiry, ideas, and the connection between the two are the drivers that transport us from now to what’s next. The future may be 2 minutes away: what changes when I try this? Or it may be decades away: what invention can I dream up that would make my life – and the world – better? We also spend a lot of time looking to the past, helping us spin stories about how we got from then to now, and how we’ll get to that future we’re imagining.

These days, it feels like everyone is forward-focused. Preparation for what’s next is a central outcome of formal and informal education. The phrase “21st century skills” echoes through the hallways of schools, businesses, after-school programs, and – of course – museums.

It wasn’t so long ago that talking about the 21st century required visions of hovercraft cars, colonies on Mars, and robotic pets retrieving your newspaper. Hello, Jetsons! But now, two decades into the 21st century, we have arrived.

What have we learned? Well, our parking lot is full of cars that still roll on wheels, our animals are still furry, and the closest we’ve come to the Jetson’s was our groovy 60s-themed Night at the Museum event last fall. The future may be impossible to predict.

But one thing is certain: our world – and the skillset it takes to thrive in it – is always changing.

When we talk about 21st century skills, we are not talking only about what is needed to prepare for future jobs or face upcoming challenges; we are thinking about the present moment. Our deeply held belief is that every person who walks through our door has these skills already. Our museum, our exhibits, and our programs are designed to activate them.

Because of this belief, it’s easy for us to think that 21st century skills are self-explanatory. You know, 21st century skills! The ones everyone is talking about? The ones that everyone knows?

Except… does everybody?

We recently read a blog post by one of our board members, John Williams, who leads the Global Services division at Advanced Energy. It was inspiring to read about how AE is investing in education and equipping talented people for careers of the future. Maybe they’ll be the ones engineering those hovercrafts!

John closed his post with a challenge: “What further investments can we all make in our future to ensure that the emerging workforce has the skills, motivation, and inspiration needed to continue to improve both our products and the world at large?”

Okay, but we’re a discovery museum. Our mission is about learning, reflecting, and having fun while exploring science and culture. What does this have to do with an emerging workforce?

Everything, actually.

That mission is our “what.” Every exhibit we build, every program we offer, furthers that mission. Look a little deeper at our vision, our “why,” and there’s more: to inspire inquisitive thinkers and encourage responsible stewardship of the future. That is the heartbeat of our everyday work, and where we rise to John’s challenge. Everything we do at FCMoD, we do looking toward the future. And when we look toward the future, it’s one rich with questions and learning.

Let’s break down what we mean by inquisitive: it’s about asking questions, constantly. The only way to move effectively into the future is to ask questions, and believe in our individual and collective ability to answer them, and then ask more.

Why? Why not? How?

…what if?

That is why our “what” is so important. To learn. To reflect. To have fun. We delight in the opportunity – the gift – to remind kids and adults how much fun learning can be. How good it feels. How asking questions and admitting what we don’t know doesn’t have to feel scary. If we admit how much we don’t know we can embrace how capable we are of knowing more. If we imagine the possibilities, we won’t spend so much time dwelling on the limitations. We really prepare ourselves for the 21st century.

This is how FCMoD invests in our future.

This is how we change the world. We’re excited to continue sharing our process – and our partnerships – with you. So, we’re going to use this blog series to break down the 21st century skills that we’re all so excited about. We want to share with you, with our partners, with our community, how proud we are of the ways that people learn at our museum.

Check back each month for a breakdown of a new 21st century skill, and how our team infuses it into specific programs and exhibits (that you can come experience for yourself!). Sometimes, they’ll feel familiar, like our next two posts: problem solving and collaboration. Sometimes, they might be a little jargon-y, like cross-disciplinary thinking or information literacy. Don’t worry: in every post, we’ll share how we define that skill, and how accessible it’s development is to anyone, right here at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

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The Know-It-All Turned Student

Post written by Adam Goss, regular attendee of DomeLab.

The Know-It-All Turned Student

Like many artists before me, I think I know everything. I think my eye for design is better than everyone else’s, and that my aesthetic choices are best. I think I can do better than others where their projects have fallen short. I think that working alone is the only way to achieve perfection. At least that’s how I used to think before I started coming to DomeLab at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (FCMoD). Nowadays, I’m the student. But for good reason.

The first time I watched a show in the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater was during the first (now annual) Fort Collins Fringe Festival in 2015. I watched an experimental show that combined practical effects, recorded 360-degree video, and live acting. The resolution was low, and I was a hard critic on the show. After all, it’s easy to be a critic. It’s easy to say, “I could do better.” Through regular meetups at the Dome, these people I was so critical of would eventually become my friends, and further down the road, collaborators on projects.

It was around this time that the Digital Dome Manager, Ben Gondrez, reached out to me via my hobby website – DIY Planetarium – and invited me to come tour the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater. I had recently finished college and had been helping people build inflatable domes for the past six years. I enjoyed dabbling in content creation in Blender; it was something I loved doing, but something I had never taken seriously.

Ben gave the most gracious tour of the Dome, its server room, and control console, ending with a long chat about planetariums and software. Before leaving, I asked the question that had been burning at my insides the entire time, “Are there any openings at the Dome?”

The museum was adjusting to its new facility and didn’t have any openings at the time, but Ben mentioned a new meetup that he was starting called DomeLab. Every other week, anyone was welcome to come to the Dome to share their creative works and collaborate with others. I was intrigued.

That evening, I went home and installed Blender for the first time in 2 years. I had 2 weeks to put something together to show at the next meetup. I decided to model a Mars crew transport prototype. I was rendering frames round the clock on every laptop I could bring back to working order. At my first DomeLab meetup, I only had 30 seconds of video to show, but I was excited to see how it looked.

The meetup had a handful of members, all of different backgrounds. Some were video producers, some were audio engineers, and some people were there just because they’d heard about DomeLab online – maybe like you are now! Ben spent some time showing us the Dome, its speakers and server racks, and talked about how to get things up on the Dome. Unlike a flat 16:9 movie screen, the dome requires a 180-degree fisheye projection, which requires a very skilled hand, or (more commonly) a fisheye camera – be it a physical camera or a virtual camera with a 3-D rendering engine. As a Blender user, I had rendered my frames using Cycles’ Fisheye Equidistant projection and was crossing my fingers that everything would look right on the Dome.

At long last, it was time to view my clip, and lo and behold, it worked. It wasn’t anything special, just a 6-wheeled vehicle crawling across a low-polygon Mars surface for 30 seconds, but to me, it was one of the most awesome experiences I’d had to date.

“Here was something I spent 2 weeks creating, and now I was viewing it in a gigantic full-dome theater… and the most amazing part is that Ben and FCMoD are opening their doors to the public for this every other week!”

Here was something I spent 2 weeks creating, and now I was viewing it in a gigantic full-dome theater, with a 5.1 Dolby speaker system that made my home setup sound like it wasn’t even trying. It is a content creator’s dream – viewing your work on a state of the art system, and the most amazing part is that Ben and FCMoD are opening their doors to the public for this every other week!

Over the next 6 months, I came to DomeLab on and off. I loved it, but as before, I wasn’t taking animation seriously. So, I decided to start taking DomeLab seriously in the summer of 2016 and began coming to every meetup. Since I live in Broomfield, this was a 2-hour driving commitment, but I felt it would be a good investment. As it turned out, this was truer than I ever could have imagined.

So why has DomeLab been so awesome? For starters, 2 weeks is “a long time” but at the same time, not that much time. It gave me enough time to put something together for the next meetup, while still keeping the pressure on to not procrastinate. For me, procrastination is my Achilles heel, and this was the fire I needed to keep growing creatively.

“….this was the fire I needed to keep growing creatively.”

I started watching Blender tutorials on YouTube for the first time in years. I tried new techniques. My modeling skills got better, and within a year, I had landed a small Dome animation contract. DomeLab really kept me growing creatively, and it’s hard to imagine how much further behind I’d be if I hadn’t started attending regularly.

Up to this point, I’ve talked mostly about me, and I’d like to talk about the other, and perhaps most important part of DomeLab: the people. I’d like to start with Ben Gondrez. For nearly 4 years now (and perhaps even longer), Ben has managed the Dome, and has opened the Dome to the public every other Tuesday, all because he believes in supporting local art projects. I’ve been around long enough to know that most museums are a walled garden, and rarely collaborate so closely with the community. FCMoD is different. Ben wants people to come in and experiment in the dome. He encourages first time members to come back with ANYTHING so that we can play it in the Dome. He invites musicians to come in and perform music. He coaches people and offers suggestions to people who want to “figure out this whole dome thing.” As a community, Ben is such an incredible asset to arts and creative works, and even after 3+ years of attending DomeLab, I can’t believe how lucky we are to have a museum that welcomes the public, and a Dome manager who cares enough to facilitate meetups.

The other side of the people equation at DomeLab are the members. During the beginning of DomeLab, members would come and go, but around 2 years ago, people started staying. We now have around a dozen “regulars” and almost always a few first-time guests. These members have humbled my creative arrogance and have shown me that I don’t know everything after all.

One of the members is building his own ray-tracing/path-tracing render engine from the ground up using linear algebra in C++. He creates mind-blowing abstract visualizations that are synchronized to his original electronic musical compositions. Another member is a Unity developer who creates interactive video games for the Dome that can be controlled from any cell phone or tablet – think multiplayer Asteroids for the Dome! There are members who create kaleidoscopic music visualizations in AfterEffects, videographers who share their 360-degree treasure hunting episodes with us, and musicians who come in to play music while Ben live VJs on the Dome.

“Every meetup is different, and every time I make new friends.”

I have learned to leave my ego at the door, and to enter with an open mind and heart. I could pick any random person at DomeLab and be guaranteed to learn something new. I have had the privilege of collaborating on several projects with these fine creative minds, and I can’t imagine life without DomeLab.

Sometimes, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself, and DomeLab is the perfect tool to keep my ego in check while helping me grow creatively. The Dome is awesome. Ben is awesome. The people are awesome.

If you’ve made it to the end of my post, I hope to see you at the next meetup!

Happy Blending!

 

Interested in DomeLab?

DomeLab at FCMoD is an open meetup for anyone who wants to stretch their creativity in the dome. Whether you are a digital artist, painter, musician, DJ, VJ, photographer, or even a programmer this is for you! DomeLab is open and free to anyone interested in creating and collaborating on projects of all types so bring your creativity and #doitinadome!

For more information about DomeLab click here to join our Facebook group.

 

All images courtesy of Adam Goss.

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Memories from the Heritage Courtyard

Post written by Charlotte Conway, Youth & Family Programs Assistant.

Charlotte’s Courtyard Memories

The museum has had a special place in my life for many years. Growing up in Fort Collins, the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery always had a hand in my life. An especially fond memory for me was the summer camp I attended at the museum’s Heritage Courtyard at Library Park. The year was 2006 and I was 10 years old.  

The summer began as most summers did during my childhood. My mother sat me down to tell me about the various summer camps she had signed me up for, to my chagrin. Something about summer camps just did not work for me. The uncoordinated medley of arts and crafts and off-putting team building activities always left me feeling bored, uninspired, lonely, and misunderstood. However, there was one piece of this summer’s puzzle that was vaguely intriguing to me this year. For one of these summer camps, I had to come dressed up in costume: a historical dress resembling clothing worn in the 1900’s, to be exact. This piqued my interest…  

And my mother immediately pounced on my interest. The next day we drove over to a fabric store and perused all sorts of fabrics and patterns, deciding on the simplest prairie dress we could find. My mom is not a seamstress and neither am I, but we stitched together that dress and low and behold, it fit me!  

Driving over to the Heritage Courtyard on that Monday morning, dressed up as a little homesteading lady, I felt excited! I loved my dress, I loved the experience of making it with my mom, and I could not wait to show it off to everyone at the camp 

“What a memorable camp experience it turned out to be.”

It may have been the outfit that broke the ice for me. It might have been the compassionate camp leader we had that summer. Whatever the reason was, this camp experience could not be further from those summer camps I had attended before! I made friends with the other children at the camp. As a lover of learning, I enjoyed pretending I was a student from another time period. I loved practicing reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmitic on my little chalkboard writing tablet.  

I was finally happy to attend a summer camp. It is possible my mother was even happier than I was! This experience stuck with me for a long time. It eventually inspired me to apply for a job at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. I had such strong, fond memories of that place, why not continue those memories?  

In retrospect, I could not be happier with my experiences with the museum. I was introduced to the museum through an incredibly positive summer camp experience – one that grabbed hold of me through my interest in history, reading, and writing, and sustained my interest through hands-on, fun, and compassionate experiences. 

It is my chance now to engage and excite children this summer through our exceptional summer camps and courtyard programming. Not every visitor and summer camper knows my personal relationship with the museum, but I hope I can pass on my continued passion for learning, even to those cynical students who haven’t found the right summer experience – until now!

Explore more this summer with summer camps at FCMoD!

Registration is now open! FCMoD members receive a discount on summer camps. The 2019 Program Guide is available here.

 

 

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Dance Express 30th Anniversary Archive Exhibit

Post written by Mary Elizabeth Lenahan, founder and director of Dance Express.

Dance Express 30th Anniversary Archive Exhibit

Founded for the love and joy of dance, Dance Express celebrates the creativity and dance talents of persons with Down syndrome and/or other developmental disabilities.  Because Theresa Lenahan loved to dance and had a natural sense of rhythm, and grew up with Down syndrome, her sister, Mary Elizabeth, knew dance was a wonderful means for self-expression and community participation.  And was inspired to start a dance company!

She founded Dance Express with the help of the Fort Collins’ community, dancers, families, students, businesses, and friends.  Mark Rosoff had the inspiration to create inclusive arts workshops and received funding from Fort Fund in 1988 to create four clusters: dance, art, music, and theatre.  He then aligned with Jane Slusarski-Harris, the new CSU Department of Dance director, to hold auditions for a dance company.  Mary Elizabeth Lenahan (then M. Elizabeth Miller) was studying occupational therapy at CSU at the time and assisted with the auditions on February 25, 1989.

Six dancers were chosen for the original troupe and performed at the first NewWestFest that summer.  One of those original six is still a member of the company.  Tamara Mahler has been a guiding light within the troupe and can be depended on to bring grace and beauty and a sense of fun to her dance compositions.

Annually, Dance Express produces dance and dance theatre performances, makes guest appearances, offers adaptive dance workshops in schools and community centers, hosts an annual regional inclusive dance convening, and provides dance training and access to the arts for people with and without disabilities.

“Essentially, Dance Express improves people’s lives through creative dance experiences.”

We are proud and grateful to be hosted at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery in the Archive as a part of our 30th Anniversary Celebration. The display will feature posters, programs, costumes, and more from the 30-year history of the organization and will be on view until June 30, 2019. Please be sure to sign the guest book and share your memories when you visit the display!

The exhibit will be on view from May 7 until June 30, 2019. Visitors may view the exhibit during our open hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm-5:00 pm.

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