Jun 182015

maas paper castleFrom 27 June admission to two of Sydney leading museums will be free for all children under 16 years.

For the MAAS and the Australian Museum that’s a significant change from the current $8 per child. The $2.1 million budget announcement reverses 25 years of ticketed entry for children and comes just in time for the winter school holidays. Australian Museum director Kim McKay said,

Museums are places of wonder, of learning and discovery … we want to make sure that they (kids) can come here anytime they’d like.

Both museums will hold a free open-day weekend on June 28 and 28 to celebrate the policy.

On the one hand this is great news if you are a family who were not visiting the museums because of the price. On the other hand, this sort of move only works when it is backed by a sustained government funding commitment. Museums need money to function and are generally an easy target in cut-backs. It would be nice to think that this move was part of a government initiative to not only allow more people access to the State’s two major museums, but to reinvigorate what they offer.

It’s not yet clear what, if anything, these pricing changes will mean for museum memberships.

Image: MAAS

Jun 052015

CODE4FUN_logo_SPOTThe opportunities for kids to learnt to code have leapt from almost zero a couple for years ago, to something approaching quite extensive in some parts of Sydney. As the field broadens there’s an interesting split developing between the club based free opportunities and the commercial opportunities. Luckily there’s more than enough space for everyone involved at the moment.

The latest start-up is Sydney Programming School (www.code4fun.com.au). They are based in Mosman, but in common with the other similar organisations, you can’t help but feel that they have aspirations well beyond a single suburb. Sydney Programming School is classes for kids from Years 2 through to Year 8. Younger kids will be working with Scratch, older kids will be building websites  and then move on to Python and Java and build mobile apps. That’s not a bad progression. It’s all very new so only the Year 3-4 classes appear to be running right now.

Classes are held in the Mosman Art Gallery. Full details are on the Sydney Programming School / Code4Fun (and isn’t that dual naming a bit confusing?) website.

It’s great to see more opportunities for kids to learn to code appearing. One interesting thing about the Sydney Programming School is that they seem to be allowing for casual drop-ins which is in contrast to most courses which require you to sign up for a series of formal lessons. And in that vein I’ll note that what is probably my favourite museum in the world, the fabulous San Francisco Creativity Museum, is launching a new exhibit this weekend: Robot Coding, aims to introduce kids to writing code in a hands-on way as they interact with robots and write different commands to make them complete a variety of different challenges. As they pointed out in telling us about it: ‘I’m not sure how many places in the world there are that kids can walk in and learn how to code without signing up for classes or anything’. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating – I so wish we had something like the Creativity Museum in Sydney.

Apr 202015

maas basementThis could be interesting: The Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (formerly known as the Powerhouse) is offering members a chance to go on ‘basement tours’ and see objects not normally on display.

These entertaining small-group tours will showcase the extraordinary treasures in our archive collection: from a costume worn by Johnny O’Keefe to Mawson’s Antarctic sledge to Babbage’s Difference Engine from 1822 (a pre-cursor to the first computer), and more!

You’ll be led through your chosen area with expert insight and commentary from our curators. The tours are one hour in duration and space is limited so choose the area you’d like to explore and book today.

There’s a reasonable range of tours on offer including: Arms & armour, Explorers, Australian innovation, and Science, Maths & Measurement. Tours cost $15 for members and $25 for non-members and, rather unfortunately, are only available for age 12-plus. There’s only one tour a month, so if you’re interested it requires some pre-planning.

Feb 272015

powerhouseI was sad to read this morning that The Powerhouse site, for what is now called the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, is to be sold, and the Museum relocated to an unspecified location in Western Sydney.

The given rationale, that this is a way to support arts and culture in Western Sydney doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. I’m all for Western Sydney having easy access to facilities, but I don’t notice much pressure to move the Sydney Dance Company or the Sydney Cricket Ground or Parliament House ‘closer to a third of the State’s population’. So either applied arts and sciences is patronisingly seen as more appropriate for the Western Sydney population, or the $200 million price-tag for the site overwhelms other considerations.

It’s also very noticeable that the one spot in the entire city that our public transport system is directed towards is the CBD – which is why most of the cultural and other institutions are there. This decision certainly doesn’t reflect the NSW government’s rhetoric of pushing of STEM education.

It’s hard, no impossible, to imagine London, Washington or Berlin moving their science museums or applied arts museums out of the central part of the cities. Why? Because they recognise the importance of a World-class science museum and they also recognise that, done properly, they are significant revenue earners.

To be fair, the MAAS, as I’ve been arguing for years, is not a World-class science museum and has brought its fate on itself through falling visitor numbers and relevance. It would be nice to think that the silver-lining here will be in the opportunity to build a new museum with up-to-date exhibits that work and a refreshed approach. I imagine all that will happen, but given the direction of the last few years I don’t imagine it will end up being the science museum I long for.

Feb 062015

thinkspace minecraftThere are some great looking coding opportunities coming up for kids at Thinkspace.

Thinkspace at MAAS – the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences that was the Powerhouse – has a long tradition of doing really innovative stuff and that seems to be continuing with some great after-school and weekend creative opportunities.

There’s After-school Creative Computing: “Book now for after-school courses (one afternoon a week for 6 weeks) that explore creative computing. Discover the basics of the programming language Python from within Minecraft. Building in Minecraft with Python makes constructing huge towers as easy as writing a few lines of code (ages 9+). Or try your hand at Scratch, a fun software for animation and game design!”

There’s weekend work on building with Minecraft, on circuits, and on green-screen filming. There’s also a Scratch family day for Museum members, although that currently appears to be sold out. The list of activities is long and varied.

Slightly confusingly, several of the events are described as ‘drop-in’ but they still require booking. So don’t assume you can just turn up.

It’s great to see Thinkspace leveraging all the wonderful work it has done on holiday programs into weekend and after-school activities. And equally great to see these new opportunities appearing for Sydney kids to learn to code and build.

It’s equally refreshing, by the way, to see some of this pitched at adult visitors. There’s no reason only kids should learn to code.

See the Thinkspace website for all the electrically-charged details.

Jan 152015

DSC_000001The Nicholson Museum continues to please with its latest exhibition.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of using LEGO to illustrate the ancient world at the Nicholson Museum, but I do know that it was a fabulous idea.

The Nicholson’s latest offering is LEGO Pompeii, and it’s great. I love the way that the creators have woven millennia of history into a single diorama. So daily Roman life rubs shoulders with archaeologists digging the ruins and even Dr Who subtly visiting. The use of LEGO makes the whole thing both intriguing and fun.

Of course the danger in this approach lies in losing sight of the reality. For example my Senior Junior Archaeology Correspondents were scandalised by the depiction of lava beneath the city streets which, as they were keen to point out, is not how the eruption occurred. But that danger is balanced by excellent poster-boards of information surrounding the LEGO exhibit.

Even without the LEGO diorama, the Nicholson is worth visiting for its small, but always fascinating, collection. Although the Nicholson is small, it continues to punch well above its weight with a creative and innovative approach to an ancient subject matter.

Their website has all the details on planning a visit.

See also: The Nicholson is a jolly fine museum.

Nov 212014

museum applied arts and sciencePart of Rose Hiscock’s vision as the new Director of the Powerhouse Museum includes: “A brand strategy is in development to articulate the positioning, brand values and visual identity for the Powerhouse’s network of venues.”

I’m guessing we’re beginning to see the product of that strategy in the latest missives from the Museum. Where the core branding used to be the Powerhouse itself, it now appears to be shifting to the underlying Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). The Powerhouse is referred to as the somewhat unwieldy  “Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences’ Powerhouse Museum“. The seems to be a gentle shift, because the wording isn’t consistent across recent marketing materials, but it’s definitely there.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach given the underlying MAAS covers more than just the Powerhouse; the Sydney Observatory stands out. There’s a shiny website to describe what it’s all about at www.maas.museum. The MAAS 2020 vision is rather nicely set out there and all seems very laudable.

I can’t help but wish, though, as I do whenever I write about the Powerhouse that they would direct some time and effort into sorting out their current displays rather than focusing on exhibitions that may bring in paying heads but seem to have only a tenuous connection to their core purpose.