Sheffield Museums Makerspaces

Royal Collection Trust - Leonardo da Vinci

In 2019, Museums Sheffield had the opportunity to display twelve drawings by Leonardo da Vinci as part of a nationwide touring exhibition, which was organised by the Royal Collection Trust to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The exhibition also contained information about Leonardo’s artistic processes, which were intimately connected to science. It was the most popular exhibition in the museum’s history, drawing in over 100,000 visitors.

Inspired Makerspaces

The museum commissioned a digital artist to develop an installation inspired by a work in the exhibition. Universal Everything developed ‘The Vehicle of Nature’, which was inspired by da Vinci’s ground-breaking studies of water. The video projection reflected the dynamic movement of water around static objects.

The makerspaces were set up in the gallery that housed The Vehicle of Nature. It was felt important to develop a makerspace that enabled children to integrate art and science, thus adhering to the artistic processes adopted by Leonardo himself. One of the values of makerspaces are their ability to foster STEM learning, which is particularly important to do in the early years if children are to develop an early interest in STEM subjects. In addition, there was a recognition that approaching STEM learning in a way that enabled children to express themselves through art - the STEAM approach – could engage children who might not necessarily be interested in STEM, and/ or under-achieve in the area, which has been found to be the case with some girls and children from a number of BAME communities.

Inspired by the installation, The Vehicle of Nature, the team developed a series of maker activities that allowed young children to explore the principles of light and colour and engage in making using a wide range of digital and non-digital tools and resources. These included providing children with opportunities to create light shows on the gallery wall from sculpted materials that were placed on a rotating base, creating projected lightshows from transparent coloured shapes and natural materials arranged on a projector, making torches using batteries and LEDs which were then used to create digital lightshows using the app PABLO, and enabling children to create their own models in response to the digital installation, using playdough, bulbs and LEDs

John Ruskin - Art & Wonder

In 2019, a series of celebrations were organised in galleries across the country focused on the artist John Ruskin. ‘John Ruskin: Art and Wonder’ was curated by Museums Sheffield as part of this endeavour, which was particularly pertinent given that Ruskin had a connection to Sheffield. The exhibition featured several important items from Sheffield’s collection. In order to ensure that their child audiences were involved in this celebration of Ruskin's work, Museums Sheffield collaborated with the Maker{Futures} team in a second set of workshops that took part over the course of a day.

Items from the collection that focused on a celebration of the natural world, in line with the focus for much of John Ruskin’s work, were transported to a community centre, in an area of socio-economic deprivation, for exhibition. The Maker{Futures} team then designed a series of activities that enabled children to respond to the collection exhibits. The makerspace was designed to allow children to respond to these provocations in a variety of ways. For example, children could design and make a cardboard automata featuring a bird, they were invited to create stone pets and make a habitat for them, they could create a drawing in response to the collection exhibits and then enable this to light up using copper tape, batteries and LEDs, resources were provided to enable children to create collages using natural materials, and there was also an exploratory play area in which children could play with a range of natural objects including wood, seeds, feathers and so on.

Project Feedback & Evaluation

Feedback from all sessions was universally positive, with children and parents both stating how much they enjoyed the sessions. Parents stated that they felt that they now had more ideas – and more confidence – for engaging with STEM and maker activities in the home. Evaluation surveys contained comments such as:

Brilliant variety of activities and really accessible.

A really good idea. My kids thoroughly enjoyed it.

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