New Gallery Celebrates County's Innovative Legacy

By Jen ThomasiBerkshires Staff
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Armand and Donald Feigenbaum, the innovation hall's namesakes, called Pittsfield's legacy for innovation 'unprecedented.'
PITTSFIELD – Several year ago, while returning home on a plane from China, Donald Feigenbaum turned to his brother Armand and said, "You know, the reason that we're here, a couple of kids from Pittsfield, is because of the way we were shaped in Pittsfield."

And that was the catalyst for the creation of the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, a 3,000-square foot exhibition set to open at the newly  renovated Berkshire Museum this weekend.

The first new gallery to open at the museum since the completion of Phase 2 of its "A Wider Window" campaign, the permanent exhibit concentrates on the region's rich history of innovation, which reaches across disciplines and beyond the boundaries of Berkshire County.

"The Hall of Innovation is about innovations that have come out of the Berkshires and have had a global impact," said Stuart Chase, the executive director of the Berkshire Museum, at a press preview on Tuesday. "What is it about the Berkshires that makes this a special place?"


A preview of the Hall of Innovation

Stuart Chase, executive director of the Berkshire Museum, explains on Tuesday a thermal imaging exhibit in the new Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation.


The gallery explores the idea of innovation in science, technology, business, politics, culture and the arts through multimedia and interactive exhibits that highlight the unique contributions of the area. Naming notable Berkshire alumni throughout history like W.E.B. Dubois, Elizabeth Freeman, Herman Melville and William Stanley, the museum intends to bring to light the region's legacy of exploring new frontiers.

"We did not want to create a hall of fame. We created the criteria for what innovation is and is not and thought about why is it that the Berkshires have a rich focus on arts and culture. We're saturated with such wonderful cultural venues and, yet, we have a history of industry and technology," said Chase.

<L2>"We put together a new look at innovation, one that combines those two areas of our past," he added.

The museum, itself a legacy of the printing empire of the Crane family, says "innovation occurs when we break free from an old way of thinking and embrace a new, more effective way of solving a problem or meeting a need."

For the Feigenbaum brothers, their hometown is an underappreciated hub of creative thought and unique approaches.



"The innovative side of this area never got the kind of attention it deserved. There's something about the mentality of this area that breeds innovation and it's a strength that should be publicized more; it truly is the key of the future," said Donald Feigenbaum during a tour of the exhibit's six distinct thematic areas.

"We've lived everywhere in the world twice and there's no place like this area. One of the characteristics that make it so notable is the atmosphere of encouragement. To put your foot in a direction that you may not have put your foot before, that's possible," said Armand Feigenbaum. "That's an attitude you can't teach. You can't invent it, you can't make a speech about it."

<R3>At the east and west entrances, a video featuring local schoolchildren and Berkshire business and community leaders, as well as the Feigenbaums, introduces visitors to the exhibit. Among the objects in the Hall of Innovation are notes, letters and telegrams from Winthrop Murray Crane, a piece of the first transatlantic cable, silver prize cups from early agricultural fairs and artwork from various Berkshire artists.

"We've been here a number of times throughout the construction but this is the first time we've seen the near-final project. To see this come to fruition is great and it's going to be a foothold, a launching pad to help economic viability in the Berkshires," said Armand Feigenbaum.

The six themed sections – titled motivation, inspiration, the innovation process, unexpected outcomes, overcoming obstacles and success – will be changed at least three times a year, shuffling both the panels currently in the exhibit to other portions of the gallery and bringing in new material from the 104-year-old museum's collections.

<L4>The Berkshire Museum launched its capital campaign in 2006 and has collected nearly $9 million, including the $1.2 million from the Feigenbaums for their addition. In addition to the Hall of Innovation, the opening of the museum will unveil renovations to the building and the installation of a new climate control system, which will allow the museum to unearth displays it was previously unable to show.

Along with the opening, new educational programming will be rolled out. Called "Using Your Noodle," the teaching tool is a flexible curriculum that educators can use in the classroom and later tie into a visit to the museum.

"Innovation defines the future. Innovation provides the opportunities for people of all ages to move forward," said Armand Feigenbaum. "The world has very few unique places like Pittsfield, especially places that have the atmosphere, environment, commitment and creativity to breed innovation."
Sponsored by SABIC Innovative Plastics Inc., the grand opening events begin on Friday, March 28, for museum members from 6 to 8 p.m. On Saturday, the opening celebration will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, it will be held from noon to 5.

Admission to the museum during the weekend grand opening is free, thanks to SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corp.).
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