On Sunday, May 3 Boston Children’s Museum held our first Fix-It Fest, a one-day extravaganza devoted to construction, fixing, and creating. Inspired by Broken? Fix-It, a traveling exhibit from Long Island Children’s Museum, Fix-It Fest was the brainchild of educator Cora Carey. I sat down with Cora to learn more about this exciting event. She talks 21st Century Skills, the “magic” of making, and the challenge of overcoming the prevalent “disposable goods” mentality. And make sure you check out the Glue Recipe at the end of the interview!
What is Fix-It Fest?
Originally I had envisioned an event that was all about repair, but I realized that making and repairing are two sides of the same coin. So we transformed the second floor of the Museum into a corridor of construction, fixing, creation, etc. The goals were to celebrate the visit of Broken? Fix It! (http://www.licm.org/BFI.php), and to get kids and families thinking about how the objects they see every day are built and repaired. I also wanted Museum visitors to be exposed to the tools of repair, as kids and adults alike are often inspired to try a new craft or hobby after being drawn to interesting new tools with specific uses.
Who participated in Fix-It Fest?
The presenters at Fix-It Fest were a mix of Boston Children’s Museum employees and guests from around Boston. Our own Clifford Sharp of the Facilities department offered a bike repair workshop, and educator Antonio Mendez offered two workshops: one on concocting original glue recipes from household materials; and one about illustrating the emotions we feel when we break something or fix it again. We were happy to host outside presenters like Dina Gjertsen of the newly-opened Somerville Tool Library, and Ryan Stulb of the North Bennet Street School. Fix-It Fest provided an opportunity for our staff to showcase skills they do not typically use during their work day. For example, our VEA Specialist Sara Tess, an experienced costume designer, co-hosted a sewing workshop with me.
We also used the Fest as an opportunity to recycle and “upcycle” some unique items we had recently deaccessioned from our Museum collections. Finding creative and interesting ways to re-use objects and materials goes hand in hand with successful “fixing”, and if we can help families think of new ways to re-use old stuff instead of throwing it away, that’s a good day at the Museum.
What were some memorable moments from the event?
I would like to share two very memorable moments from this event. The first was watching craftsman Ryan Stulb demonstrate some of the techniques he uses in building and repairing heirloom violins. Ryan brought a selection of gorgeous hand tools with him and used them as visitors watched, creating a growing pile of fragrant, fresh wood shavings right in the middle of the exhibit. At one point three 8- or 9-year olds stared in rapt attention as he showed them how to prepare wooden surfaces for gluing and then how to glue them such that five minutes later, the wooden pieces were fused and inseparable. He let the young visitors try their hand with the planes and saws and then revealed the results with all the drama of a magic show.
The second was a visitor telling me that she and her daughter had traveled here all the way from Ottawa, Canada, and had scheduled their entire road trip to Boston around attending the Fix-It Fest, as her almost-9-year-old daughter was quite taken with sewing and mending. I’ll admit I was initially terrified that our workshop would not be worth a trip all the way from Ottawa, but in the end, both mother and daughter had a great time and we were thrilled to host our neighbors from the North!
Why is programming like this important?
I believe that when our visitors are given the opportunity to make or fix real objects using real tools and materials, they will gain a better understanding of the world around them and an increased appreciation for the built environment. Seeing how basic materials – wood, metal, fabric, paper, paint – behave, and having the freedom to “mess about” with these materials, fosters an appreciation of how things are made. Our “disposable goods” mentality does not encourage a broad appreciation for durable goods and their construction.
I also find that even the simplest of sewing and woodworking projects are a surefire way to build problem-solving skills – for kids and adults alike. I think there’s a real magic to transforming flat, two-dimensional fabric into a three-dimensional piece that fits contours and irregular shapes, and once you’ve experienced this magic, it’s worth every frustration along the way. I love helping kids work through the tricky parts and get to the magic.
Will there be another Fix-It Fest in the future?
I sure hope so! We put it together because we had the Broken? Fix It! exhibit here, but the Fest could absolutely stand alone as an event even without an exhibit to host it. I’d definitely like to do something like this again, and it seemed like our visitors had an appetite for it as well.
There are lots of way to make glue – here’s one method:
- 1 cup skim milk
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tbsp water
- Measuring cups/spoons
- Filter (cheese cloth, coffee filter, or paper towel)
- Jar with lid
- In a saucepan, stir milk and vinegar together over medium/low heat. Don’t let it boil! When the milk curdles, take saucepan off stove and pour contents through the filter.
- Pour contents of filter (“curds”) into jar and set aside.
- In a bowl, dissolve baking soda in water. Pour mixture slowly into jar of curds and mix together. You can use your glue right away. Store leftover glue in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.