Smithsonian Leaders Hail Berkshire Museum SparkLab Partnership

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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The SparkLab space intends to teach concepts of innovation and invention in youth.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Executives of the Smithsonian praised Berkshire Museum's new interactive SparkLab as part of the beginning of a new national initiative it hopes to spread around the country.

The new SparkLab exhibit area, which opened to the public on Saturday, is one of the first three of its kind, emphasizing an interactive environment aimed at instilling concepts of innovation and invention in youth.

“We think that real innovation will happen in this space,” according to Claudine Brown, Assistant Secretary of Education & Access at the Smithsonian. “Every SparkLab is different, and this one is architecturally beautiful.”

Berkshire Museum is one of 192 affiliate museums to the Smithsonian, and is among the first four satellite locations worldwide for the SparkLab exhibit program, which is also now in Reno, Kansas City, and India. Two more are currently in development in Alaska and Michigan.

“It is one of those museums that is an exemplar of the museums that we work with,” Brown said of the Berkshire Museum.

Jeffrey Brody, deputy director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, said that the original SparkLab at the Lemelson Center served over 600,000 youth within its first three years. Early successes, he said, prompted the museum to open the program up as a national network.

“It is spectacular to have SparkLab at the Berkshire Museum,” Brody said.

SparkLab is a “multi-disciplinary experience” whose mission is to document and interpret invention, cultivate innovation, and promote education about the role of creativity and invention, he said.

“Our collective efforts to bring SparkLab here is a milestone in our common pursuit to share and instill in the next generation of young people, the knowledge and skills and tools that they're going to need to change the society around them."

Maria Mingalone, Berkshire Museum's Director of Interpretation, said that SparkLab is a crucial opportunity for children to have opportunities for unstructured play which cultivate creative learning.

“Play is really a child's work,” according to Mingalone. “It's so important to have a creative laboratory space that is child-directed, and allows visitors to gravitate toward the activities that they have a genuine interest in, and allows for open ended play and exploration."

“It's a reminder to us adults, too, to stay creative,” Mingalone said.

The unique space for the Berkshire Museum's SparkLab was designed by architects Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson of CPTK Architects, both Berkshire natives with an interest on educational and cultural projects.

The museum says the new exhibit will remain in action for at least the next two years.

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Studs Turkel Makes Music, Caroline Rose Switches Genres and More

By Grace LichtensteinGuest Column

A wonderful pops and dance week in the Berkshires is upon us. There is an original musical based on Studs Terkel's amazing oral history "Working," folk and pop acts at the highest level, Mark Morris at the Pillow, and twilight jazz on Edith Wharton's terrace. The pluses outweigh the minuses — the main minus being Patti Lupone's cancellation at the Mahaiwe. (She's still recuperating from hip replacement surgery, according to an announcement.) Lupone promises to reschedule.

Berkshire Theatre Group

"Working: A Musical" is based on Studs Terkel's brilliant collection of interviews chronicling the lives of ordinary Americans. It was first produced in 1977 but has been extensively revised. The updated version from 2012, opening this week at the Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Stage in Stockbridge, features songs by Tony Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton," "In the Heights"), as well as by Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked," "Pippin," "Godspell"), Craig Carnelia and the Berkshires' own James Taylor.

The show was adapted by Schwartz and Nina Faso with additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg. The director is James Barry. It begins Thursday, July 18, and runs through Aug. 24. I hate to be alarmist, but smart theatergoers should order tickets ASAP since the first two weekends are almost sold out. Get those tickets and  more info online.

Mass MoCA

Beginning Thursday, July 18, and running through Wednesday, July 24, fellows and faculty of the celebrated New York contemporary music collective Bang on a Can present informal recitals in various Mass MoCA galleries. The music ranges wildly — from solo cello to Latin big band.

In a different vein, singer-songwriter Caroline Rose brings her multi-genre sensibility to Mass MoCA on Saturday night, July 20. She was originally hailed for her folk/country rockabilly sound, but more recently it has been her darker indie pop, synthesizer-laden work that has gained attention. Opening for her is Zenizenn.

Find all the details on the website.

Guthrie Center

Tom Paxton visits Great Barrington on Friday, July 19, and Saturday, July 20, to reprise a career going back to the 1960s, protest sounds and the folky revival. I hope he sings "Ramblin' Boy." I would also love to hear "Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues," for the good old days, just to hear the line "I swear to God that I smell pot." He will have with him the Don Juans, made up of songwriters Don Henry and Jon Vezner.

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