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Independent “software artist” and developer Lieven van Velthoven has made a career out of his passion: mixing technology, design, and art.
Van Velthoven, from the Netherlands, hopes to ignite the same passion in kids visiting The DoSeum‘s digiPlaySpace exhibition, where two of his original games are available for play as part of the museum’s Summer of Tech initiative.
The initiative will help fill a gap in summer STEM learning programs, said DoSeum Vice President of Education Ryan Smith.
“There are lots of models like summer reading, [but] not a lot of models for summer STEM programs,” Smith said.
The interactive exhibit, which opens Saturday, June 3, and runs through Sept. 5, is meant to expose young visitors to new ways of interacting with and creating various types of technology. The ultimate goal to give kids the tools to impact their communities in meaningful, modern ways.
“I always hope that, with my installations, at least one smart kid is interested enough to spark his creativity and his curiosity,” van Velthoven said.
Visitors can create GIFs using stop-motion animation, build their own robots with unique abilities, experience virtual reality, design and re-design a track for virtual cars to race through using household items, and create a bridge between virtual reality and the real-life environment. Numerous other elements such as augmented reality, engineering, and coding, are in the exhibit, which came to the DoSeum from the Toronto International Film Festival. It features games and apps by artists from Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
“They really put together an incredible suite of international multi-media artists with various interactive exhibit components,” said Meredith Doby, DoSeum exhibits director.
If the museum officials’ goal is to increase kid’s excitement about technology and all of the creative possibilities around it, a private media tour of the exhibit Friday was a clear indication that they’ll likely be successful. Reporters and DoSeum staffers alike marveled at each interactive station, experimenting with the games, apps, robots, and other items with childlike wonder.
The exhibit involves a lot of playing, but each element is conducive to hands-on learning meant to inspire kids to “be the engineers and producers of technology,” Doby said.
It allows them to “develop the skills, the awareness, the literacy around these new types of technology,” she said. “They can now use these skills for the future and start to gain this understanding of technology which they can then implement to create innovative change.”
Doby sees recent innovations in multimedia technology and its design and engineering as “an emerging art form” that can prompt young people to consider new ways of self expression. Some might look at some of the programming and think it’s just another video game or app for children, in a world that is already saturated with such technology.
“There are video games that typically use the TV screen, but have [kids] done something with physical objects and the projection [screen]?” Doby said. “It’s kind of showing [kids] a new idea” about technology.
The Summer of Tech, supported by the City’s Department of Arts and Culture, also entails other components that will extend children’s learning beyond the hands-on digiPlaySpace. With the Kids Coding Challenge, an initiative in partnership with Youth Code Jam, participants can complete a series of coding challenges both online and offline. The challenge is meant to keep kids’ critical thinking gears going throughout the summer and beyond.
Those without computers at home can use the DoSeum’s Computer Help Lab, next to its Spy Academy.
“The idea is they come to experience the exhibit … they can get the coding guide and take it with them and continue learning,” said Chris Navarro, the DoSeum outreach and public programs director, who has helped partner with community organizations to introduce local kids to coding. “This is something I think is new in education. Though coding is not new, the curriculum – the content – is emerging in the world of formal and informal education.”
The museum also will host a Tech Fair on Aug. 12. The fair will bring together kid coders, summer campers, and local tech leaders and innovators to learn from each other and showcase their personal ideas and designs. Two lectures on tech and safety for kids and healthy and safe technology practices also will be available for parents.
The programming during the Summer of Tech is meant to be fun and engaging, but van Velthoven also sees it as a potential starting point for interested kids’ evolution into technology designers and engineers. For him, studying computer science in college and graduate school was often times difficult and boring, he said, but his hard work and creativity has allowed him to make a career out of his passion and has taken him all over the world.
“There’s no way I could have made this without math or without coding, and now I’ve got the freedom to make whatever I come up with. There’s literally no limits, besides what the hardware can do,” he said.
He wants to show children that “if one guy can make two awesome games here, then they could do that, too.”